Sunday, August 30th, 2015
30 August, 2015
My main reason for aborting the trip to Nova Scotia and a later crossing to Ireland was the fact that my South African passport was coming up for renewal. I had been warned that this could take 4-6 months and would have made the timing very awkward. Hence the decision to return to the US from Bermuda and get things sorted out in Washington DC while I explored Chesapeake Bay. Also lurking at the back of my mind was the growing awareness that the boat was seriously in need of maintenance and adventurous sailing might not have been the wisest thing.
The rigging and sail had taken some heavy wear on the long downwind run from the Eastern Caribbean to Guatemala and I was running out of usable rope to replace chafed-through parrels and sheetlets. The main halyard had a worrisome threadbare patch near the middle. I had served it in an effort to prevent catastrophic failure, but it did not inspire confidence. The small blocks that I use for the sheet attachments to the sail were also wearing out. Most had been acquired in an already geriatric state and were now overdue for retirement. The sail itself was still repairable but looking rather seedy. Add to all this the dodgy state of the engine, and I felt that the disappointment of not being able to explore the fabled cruising grounds of Nova Scotia, followed by an Atlantic crossing, was justified.
In 2006 I had spent a few months at Old Road Bay near the start of the Patapsco River which goes up to Baltimore. Unfortunately, Brian, who runs Old Bay Marina where I had hauled-out then, had changed his policy regarding foreign cruising boats, but there are many other small boatyards in the area and within a few days I was safely installed at Young´s Boatyard a short way up Jones Creek. The mast was efficiently lifted and laid on trestles ashore for painting and re-rigging. Living aboard while hauled out at the yard is not encouraged, but Dudley Boycott, an old friend from my previous visit, lives nearby and generously offered me a place to stay.
Dudley is 92 years old and still cycles 10 miles nearly every morning. He is also a semi-retired sail-maker with a full scale sail loft in the basement of his house. He agreed to let me use it to re-stitch and repair my sail and soon my poor raggedy old sail was laid out for inspection. It would be a daunting task to get it back in shape and my thoughts ran to somehow finding the cash to make a new one. The opportunity just seemed too good to miss. Everything so easily available and lots of help from friends. And so the decision was made. Scrapping the old sail made me feel quite heart-sore as we had been through so much together. It took some persuasive talk from Dudley to get me to eventually roll it up and leave it in the boatyard dumpster after removing some of the more respectable looking pieces. Carrying it as a spare was simply not an option with the limited storage space on Speedwell.
The new yellow Sunbrella was duly ordered and delivered with many thanks to Robin for arranging a good price for me. Robin also does canvas work and had some left-over yellow from a job she had done. She generously donated it to the project along with a reel of yellow polyester thread.
I decided to stay with the same sail design (as per Vincent Reddish) and not try anything new and experimental after my rather unsuccessful attempt at ‘cambered panels’. I like the solid simplicity of the flat junk sail. It might not win any races but, so far, has not let me down. Previously, because of limited space for laying things out, I had measured and cut each panel separately before sewing them together. This time, with plenty of clean, uncluttered floor space and Dudley’s years of experience, I was shown how to lay out the full shape of the sail using tapes pinned to the floor. Everything can be carefully measured and checked. The position of each batten was marked off with tape as well, to give me an overall view of the outcome. The cloth was then laid out in parallel horizontal strips and marked off for seams and cutting lines. It is a much more economical way of cutting and I found I had ordered about 6 yards more than I needed, based on previous experience. It won’t be wasted as there are always more little projects waiting to be tackled.
My days were quite busy, as I had decided to split my time by working on the boat in the morning while it was still relatively cool and then spending the afternoon in the air-conditioned basement doing the sail. Edgemere is a very pretty suburb with an abundance of shady deciduous trees. All green now but turning to brilliant colours in autumn. Cosy clapboard houses with mostly unfenced gardens running down to the street. I enjoyed my early morning walk to the boatyard and usually saw many squirrels, rabbits and birds: Baltimore Orioles, Red-winged Blackbirds, Northern Cardinals, Mourning Doves and Canada Geese flying overhead. Dudley came to fetch me each day at 12 and gave me lunch before I started the afternoon shift.
It has not been all work, of course. Every Wednesday evening the various sailing clubs get together for a twilight race in the bay and I have been allowed on the committee boat, a comfortable trawler called ‘Myth’, which belonged to Dudley and his late wife Rose for many years. It is now owned by a syndicate of 5 and oversees the weekly race meet. It was a much appreciated chance to get back on the water and watch how the ‘pointy’ boats do it.
One problem with being in Edgemere is that there is absolutely no public transport and everything is just too far away to reach on foot. A bicycle would work well, but I’ve never owned or ridden a bike and feel nervous in traffic so I’ve had to rely on getting lifts from people. Will, a part-owner of ‘Myth’ has been very helpful taking me to Annapolis to buy a reel of rope for the new rigging and Joyce and Lisa also drove me to town for a few things that I’d forgotten. Apparently, in the good old days, there was a tram which went all the way from here to Baltimore. It would have made things much more convenient.
I met Joyce and Lisa when I was here before and they are still living on their boat in Old Bay Marina and are very enthusiastic crab catchers. One evening they brought a huge pot full of enormous steamed crabs round to Dudley’s for dinner. We had a feast, making a glorious mess smashing the shells with sturdy wooden mallets and picking out the delicious edible bits. Will has a house surrounded by sycamore trees, overlooking the water of the bay and provided dinner each Thursday. Always a treat.
At last, after 3 weeks on the hard, Speedwell was ready to go back in the water. The mast had been repainted, the wiring to the masthead light repaired, the VHF antenna repaired, new halyard, lazy jacks and sheets installed, the bottom cleaned and repainted with antifouling, the Garmin transducer properly mounted on the transom, name plates re-varnished, the blocked raw-water intake cleaned out, etc, etc.
And of course, the new sail was finished. There is not much water at the mast-lifting dock but Speedwell can just get in at high water. Phil did a great job of re-fitting it in the tabernacle and then we bundled the sail on board and moved the boat out while it was still floating. I anchored out in the little bay and spent two days putting things together. I was lucky to have calm weather and it was an enjoyable task. Rather time-consuming, measuring off and tidying up all the little bits and pieces of rope that a junk rig needs, but it was relaxing being back on board and just fiddling away. When I was able to raise the full sail at last I was delighted with the result. So grateful to all the friends who helped make it possible.