Archive | September 2013

Before and Aft

Getting the Boat Ready to Sail


Ships carry boats. Since little Catnip the Dinghy follows us around everywhere we go, does that make Catmandu a ship?

Catmandu is a 1982 white-hulled Catalina 27, tall rig, with a striking royal blue dodger and sail cover, and a trusty inboard Atomic 4 gasoline engine. She is equipped with a gps chart plotter, depth sounder, new VHF radio with … and yes, a broken cassette deck. She has been in the water in Back Creek, Annapolis, MD for three years without a haul out. There were just a few things to do before we could sail south.

Hull – If you haven’t had your breakfast, you might want to look away. This picture shows what happens if you neglect your bottom and leave it hanging in the water for three years. Even the barnacles had barnacles. After a haul out, power wash and vacuum sanding, her bottom got three coats of bottom paint. It looks beautiful, as Phil says, if you don’t get too close.



Depth Sounder – The depth sounder started dozing off several months ago, usually when we were in shallow water and really needed it. The helpful readout would look like this: – – Occasionally, it would wake up in the middle of the Chesapeake and register something around 434 feet. With the boat’s underside exposed during her haul-out, it was easy to see why the instrument was so confused.


old-depth-transducer new-depth-transducer









Zinc – I am not sure what this part is for, but I can see clearly that Catmandu needed a new one:


Engine – The inboard Atomic 4 and I have a history. This particular model of gasoline engine has stranded me four times in the past six years. Once in Narragansett Bay, twice just northwest of Block Island, Rhode Island, and once in the Severn River, Maryland. Two of those malfunctions involved the oil pressure safety valve. It’s a safety feature, so I am grateful that the engine didn’t start, burst into flames and sink the boat. In all cases, there were no fatalities and I ended up home safe. All the engine needed this week was a tune up, a water pump and some new spark plugs.



Mind the Gap…

VHF Radio – The new radio is equipped with Digital Selective Calling (DSC) which allows it to transfer information in digital format to the Coast Guard in case of distress. Part of the alert is a nine-digit Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) number that identifies the boat. I had never heard of a MMSI number before, but I’m so glad now that we have it. MMSI is pronounced “mimsy”, as in, “All mimsy were the borogroves, and the mome raths outgrabe.”

Joker Valves – When Phil said he was replacing the joker valves in the head, I told him it made me feel like I was being laughed at every time I went in there. He assured me they were there to make the laughing gulls laugh. Another UGH picture, and then I’m done:



Before-and-after joker valves

Dinghy – Every once in a while when we are underway, Phil looks astern at the dinghy and says, “Try to keep up, Catnip!” Once, Catnip decided to let go in the middle of the Chesapeake. Impulsively, the captain jumped overboard to recover the wayward dink, forcing the first mate to slow the boat (ship?) and circle back to pick them up. Catnip has been firmly attached ever since. The backup oars and the thwart have a new coat of varnish, and the little outboard motor purrs.

Camp Letts approach

Route from Back Creek to Camp Letts

Catmandu is equipped and ready to go next week. Friday morning, Phil will weigh anchor and sail solo, eleven miles south to Edgewater, Maryland. I will fly from New Hampshire to BWI, catch the GO Shuttle at the airport and try to catch up with Phil and Catmandu at the Seven Seas Cruising Association Cruisers’ Gam. It’s the beginning of an adventure with an uncertain destination, unknown duration and a fluid timetable that is dependent on weather, water depth, tides and wind. But we know Catmandu is ready to sail.

Okay, Catnip, you can come, too. Hold on tight.


This entry was posted on September 23, 2013. 6 Comments

Getting the Mind Ready to Sail

It must have been Winter when he first started talking about moving south. He was a sailor who lived on his 27-foot sailboat in Annapolis, Maryland. I could understand wanting warmth, year-round sailing, sunshine and palm trees. But I had to overcome feelings of sorrow and loss. He had already moved 500 miles away and now it would be 1200 more.

I promise that’s the last sad thing you’ll read here.

Maybe it was my enthusiasm for sailing or the dreamy-eyed look I got at the boat shows, but he decided I was sailor material and asked if I’d like to come along.

phil-captains-log-sep-2013“I won’t be much help,” I said.

“Yes you will. You can cook, do dishes, do the laundry and clean the head.”

(No, he didn’t say that! He doesn’t see boat chores in blue and pink.) He wanted me to take a safe boating course, learn to tie basic knots, and be able to plot a course on a paper chart if all electronics failed.

It didn’t seem much like sailing weather when I started my once a week course in boater safety. It was March in New Hampshire. Luckily, this was all classroom work and I loved it. I learned about PFDs and fire extinguishers, what to do if your boat is burning (call for help, don your pfd, then jump!), what to do if a humungous barge is bearing down on you and you are the stand-on vessel (get out of the way – it takes him a mile just to slow down and two miles to stop).

tikiThe geek in me couldn’t get enough of charts and straight edges and angles. I got a small length of rope and practiced knots. Even now, there’s a perfect bowline around my bedpost (stop thinking about that) and a clove hitch securing the salt shaker. I got a 98 on the final exam, and it would have been 100 except for my laziness in reading all the answers:

Q:  When is the appropriate time to wash all vegetation off of your powerboat?

a. As soon as you get home
b. Right before you enter another body of water
c. It depends on the type of boat you have
d. As soon as you pull away from the boat ramp.

Okay, I thought (a) was right and I didn’t even read (d). But 98 is very respectable and a few weeks later I got a shiny plastic card saying I’m certified. It doesn’t mean I’m a sailor. It just means I know the rules and the markers,  and I won’t embarrass my captain on the radio. (I will probably embarrass him in so many other ways!)

Being a marketeer by profession, I’ve had a fair amount of sales training. In every sale, a good salesman anticipates the objections and has an answer for each of them. In order to sell myself on a five-week journey on a sailboat, I had to overcome a few objections: what about my job, who will feed my cats, and the big one: will I be able to afford it?

My son and I were talking about this as we wandered along Hampton Beach, weaving in and out of beach shops with t-shirts and towels. It was a hot summer day and we had gone to see the sand sculptures. As we made our way back to the car, we saw a bright yellow t-shirt in the window of one crowded little shop. It said simply, YOLO. I looked at Anthony. He gave me the “what cave have you been living in” look, and said, “You Only Live Once.”

I asked for a leave of absence from my job at a small manufacturing company. It seems no one had ever asked before. I said, think of it as maternity leave, and I got it. My other son Donald will drive for an hour two or three times a week to feed the cats. “You have to do this trip, Mom,” he said. And out of the blue, I got a check from my 85 year old mother who didn’t yet know I was thinking of sailing south. “My tax adviser tells me I should start giving some away,” she said. Objections? Gone.

And so, in a few short weeks, we will sail Catmandu under the bright yellow banner of YOLO and out into the Chesapeake, heading south.


This entry was posted on September 15, 2013. 9 Comments