About Charles Doane

Charles Doane is an editor-at-large for SAIL, where he previously was a senior editor. He also served as managing editor at Offshore and associate editor at Cruising World. Charles has logged more than 40,000 miles as an offshore sailor, including six transatlantic passages and some single-handed passages. His blog posts appear courtesy of his website www.WaveTrain.net.

FLYING YACHT: Or Is It a Gnat?


Flying Yacht by Yelken Octuri

This thing sure does look a bit bug-like, doesn’t it??? No need to get out the Raid, however. Tis but a figment in the imagination of one Yelken Octuri, a French designer whose day job is color-coordinating plane interiors for Airbus. It would appear he does not find this job entirely fulfilling. In his spare time he seems to have an awful lot of fun coming up with wild and creative conceptual designs for futuristic aircraft. Two of these–the Flying Yacht you see here and a design for a Sailing Aircraft–were featured in an exhibit at the Air and Space Museum in Paris earlier this summer.

According to Octuri’s website, the Flying Yacht design, designated “Seaplane-convertible sailing yacht 8P-sail4M,” was commissioned by Dawood and Hashim Aziz of Masqat Airways. Measuring 150 feet long and flying 14,000 square feet of sail when waterbound, the Flying Yacht boasts a total of six masts. Two are fixed and the other four are articulated. Each of the mobile masts is controlled with a “double-jack system” and is supported by shrouds running to the fixed masts. In flying mode, the sails are furled inside the horizontal airfoil masts.

Flying Yacht by Octuri under sail

Flying Yacht by Octuri in flight

Not surprisingly, Octuri seems to have paid special attention to the interior design.

Flying Yacht by Octuri interior

The Sailing Aircraft, meanwhile, looks very much like a dragonfly. When sailing its rig is quite reminiscent of the venerable Polynesian crabclaw, don’t you think? It would make a fine tender, no doubt, for the Flying Yacht.

Sailing Plane by Octuri in flight

Sailing Plane by Octuri under sail

Polynesian crabclaw rig

As with the Flying Yacht, Octuri has gone to the trouble to create a fictional commissioning owner and builder for the Sailing Aircraft. And for about 30 seconds he had me going on this, until I checked out his Honeymoon Space Shuttle, which was purportedly commissioned by Horny Moon Airlines.

Honeymoon Space Shuttle by Octuri

The design brief includes a description of a mechanism for facilitating copulation in zero gravity.

All of which, I’m afraid to say, reminds me of the 4th grade. They showed us a film from NASA one day and practically promised us we’d be commuting to work with jet packs by the time we were grown up.

Jet Pack

WTF happened to that???



Chart of Cliff island, Maine

I stopped in for the night at Cliff Island on my way back from Malaga during my Mini Solo Cruise, and we stopped there again during a family weekend on the boat soon afterwards. I first checked it out just last year, but since then I’ve anchored or moored there repeatedly, as it is very conveniently located. Like Chandler Cove, it is close enough to Portland that I can reach it on a whim. It is also right next door to Jewell Island, which is one of the most popular cruising destinations on Casco Bay, thanks to its many trails and ruined WWII fortifications. The anchorage at Jewell, however, is pretty tight. Cliff Island makes a great easy-to-reach default destination if you get shut out there, or if an inopportune wind shift forces you out at some godforsaken hour.

Cliff Island, as you can see, has a distinctive H shape. Essentially, it consists of two narrow rock ledges (one long, one much shorter) running on a southwest-northeast bias (a configuration very common in Casco Bay), with a low sandy isthmus that runs on a northwest-southeast bias connecting them. There are natural anchorages both south and north of the isthmus.

The most protected spot on the south side of the isthmus, hard up against the main body of the island, is known as Fisherman’s Cove and is normally full of local lobster boats and lesser craft  on moorings. I’ve never seen a transient cruising boat in there, but I’ve often seen vacant moorings and there probably is room for a boat to lie to a prudently set anchor. In a hard norther I also wouldn’t rule out lying to a anchor set close to shore in the separate bight east of Fisherman’s Cove, but in a nor’easter this probably would not be tenable.

Cliff Island, Maine

During the summer cruising season, when the prevailing winds are southerly, it is the much larger anchorage north of the isthmus that is attractive to transients. This is bifurcated into two equal parts by a submerged ledge. There are also three submerged lumps to look out for when coming or going, but on the whole access is easy and open. Coming from the west, rounding the north end of the island’s main body, you can cut the corner as fine as you like. Coming from the east there is a channel that needs respecting. Currently this is marked by one green buoy, and the advice from Taft and Rinlaub’s Cruising Guide to the Maine Coast is that you should pass south of this and leave it to starboard. This, however, flies in the face of the buoy pattern on the rest of Casco Bay, which has east-west passages between ledges and islands marked with green buoys to the south and red ones to the north. You’ll see my old chart for Casco Bay, above (corrected to Oct. ’94), shows this was also true at Cliff Island when it had buoys either side of the channel. In my own experience, you should be fine whichever side of the green buoy you pass by, as long as you stay very close to it.

Cliff island, Maine

In season the east side of Cliff’s northern anchorage is usually most popular, as there are often several loose moorings you can pick up. Those who want to lie on their own hooks usually favor the more secluded west side, where there is excellent holding in very sticky mud. When I was there on my own I shared this side of the anchorage with a big schooner, and both Lunacy and I fairly cringed with paranoid fantasies of being stalked by schooners. Fortunately, this one stayed put and did not assault us.

Schooner anchored at Cliff Island, Maine

Looking at the chart you’d think the west side would offer decent protection from a northwest breeze. In fact, however, as I discovered that very night, a northwest wind with a just a little bit too much north in it can wrap around the north tip of the island’s main body and become downright northeasterly. In a hard northwest blow after a strong cold front you therefore should probably be elsewhere.

Unlike Little Chebeague or Malaga, Cliff Island is thoroughly inhabited. Indeed, it is officially part of the city of Portland (as are six other islands in the vicinity) and enjoys year-round ferry service to downtown. There is a post office, a church and community center, and an adorable one-room schoolhouse that serves a year-round community of about 60 people. In the summer the population swells to over 200, and the island’s small network of dirt roads comes alive with vacationing families strolling about, bicycling, and noodling around in golf carts. They are always happy and smiling and usually greet strangers quite enthusiastically.

Cliff Island also has a store. A most excellent one. Located on the west side of the island, right above the ferry dock, it now belongs to Steve and Johanna Corman, two school teachers from Virginia who up and moved to Cliff in a heartbeat two years ago after Johanna, during a visit to the island, saw a sign reading: Subs & Soda $5, Add chips $6, Store for Sale $5,000.

Store at Cliff Island, Maine

During my solo visit, I was quite happy to find that the tiny Pearl’s Seaside Market (there’s also a snack bar and ice cream parlor next door) had all three items I was seeking: a tomato, a bottle of wine, and a jar of marinated artichoke hearts. When I came back again a couple of weeks later with Clare and Lucy, we also discovered they have the best Whoopie Pies on earth.


LAURA DEKKER: Sneaking Out of Gib


Laura Dekker in Portugal

It seems the sailing world’s latest child circumnavigator, Laura Dekker, age 14, confounded hovering media vultures over the weekend by suddenly appearing in Gibraltar, then leaving again in secret to set out alone on her trip around the world. Dekker originally planned to make her solo departure out of Portimao, Portugal, where she and her father brought her 38-foot Jeanneau Gin Fizz Guppy after leaving Holland earlier this month on a shakedown passage. The media, apparently, were on hand in Portimao on Saturday, expecting to make a fuss over Laura’s long-awaited official farewell. Meanwhile, the sneaky teen, after a enjoying a private farewell with family and friends, set out alone from Gib that same day.

The reason for the change in venue was entirely bureaucratic. Turns out you have to be at least 18 to set off on an ocean passage alone from Portugal, and the authorities weren’t about to make an exception for Laura. Gibraltar, which is but a sliver of peninsula on Spain’s southern coast that enjoys nebulous semi-autonomous status as a British possession, is apparently more liberal in these matters.

Gibraltar from the air

The reason for the secrecy is that Laura is evidently getting tired of being a sailing celebrity. In her latest blog entry, posted yesterday, she complained about all the press and tourists who were pestering her at the marina in Portimao. Reportedly she and her father, Dick, departed Portimao aboard Guppy last Wednesday, but left the media with the impression they were going on short test sail and would soon return.

In other news, it also seems that Laura has gathered a support team to help wrangle her relationship with the rest of the world. She now has a manager, Peter Klarenbeek, and has made a deal with a TV production company, Masmedia. They’ll be meeting her at each of the ports she visits and, among other things, will help her navigate the various government bureaucracies that may, like the Portuguese, have issues with her age. I expect that bureaucratic problems may well be a determining factor in how Laura’s route plays out. For example, she is now headed south toward Madeira and the Canary Islands and should arrive at one or the other in the next week or so. If she puts into Madeira, however, she will again be on Portuguese soil and will again have a problem leaving alone.

(Note: In spite of now having a “team,” Laura’s website is still pretty minimalist. Some stuff in the Dutch version doesn’t appear in the English-language version, so if you want to catch everything you have to use Google to translate all the Dutch, which is tedious, to say the least.)

As with her immediate predecessors, Abby Sunderland and Jessica Watson, Laura is also inspiring a fair amount of controversy. She had to shut down the Guestbook portion of her website for a while to thwart some hostile naysayers and has also weathered some slings and arrows in the blogosphere. Among her critics is my fellow BoaterMouth blogger Lenny Rudow, whose nuanced analysis of the voyage you can read here.

Lenny, you’ll see, makes the same mistake many other laypeople make, equating Abby Sunderland’s rather idiotic voyage (non-stop eastabout in the Southern Ocean during winter) to Laura’s much more ordinary one (westabout Milk Run in season with lots of stops along the way). You’ll find also that he does things like fish for billfish and giant tuna from jet-skis and ultralight planes.

Those who don’t fish may think this sounds a little “stupid” (Lenny’s word), but please don’t judge him. I’ve met Lenny and I can assure you he is nowhere near as stupid as he makes Laura Dekker sound.


AMEL SUPER MARAMU: A Cruising System

Amer Super Maramu under sail

Boats produced by the French builder Chantiers Amel occupy a very unique niche in the cruising sailboat market. The company founder, Henri Toncet, who changed his name to Henri Amel while serving with the French resistance during World War II, became a pioneer of fiberglass boatbuilding in Europe after studying floating pontoons built of polyester-impregnated burlap that had been deployed by Allied invasion forces. Amel emerged from the war crippled in one leg, missing one eye, nearly blind in the other, but possessed of an iron will and obsessive personality that he channeled into the creation of a line of extremely clever yachts he described not merely as cruising boats, but as “integrated cruising systems.”

The Super Maramu, the culmination of a series of six different Amels produced in Henri Amel’s lifetime, was first introduced in 1989 and was discontinued in 2005, the year Amel passed away, after a production run of 497 hulls. It is very much a production boat in that most everything about it is set as firmly in stone as possible at the factory. New Amels are delivered, quite literally, ready to sail anywhere in the world with option lists that are very short. You either buy into the Amel system, or you don’t, and if you don’t you are well advised to buy another boat rather than try to make one of these into something it isn’t.

As on all Amels, the focus aboard the Super Maramu is very much on comfort and convenience. The boat, consequently, is very systems intensive. Standard equipment includes a generator, diswasher, washer-drier, a fridge and freezer, and a microwave oven, not to mention myriad lesser bits of kit, including a vacuum cleaner, hairdrier, and a specially designed shopping cart. Most Super Maramus were also delivered with optional watermakers and air-conditioners installed.

Amel Super Maramu helm

The same philosophy pertains on deck and the boat is designed to be operated from the confines of the well-protected center cockpit by a single individual capable of lifting no more than 50 pounds. Both the in-mast mainsail and headsail are controlled with push-button electric furlers; the smaller in-mast mizzen is controlled by a direct-drive furler turned with a winch handle. All sheet winches are electric. The power windlass, replete with chain counter, can also be operated from the cockpit, as can the integral anchor washdown system installed in the bow roller. There is also a retractable bow thruster to help out when docking, though it is necessary to step out on deck to handle dock lines.

Equipment lists like this often translate into lots of maintenance and repair headaches, but Amel obviates this as much as possible by making all original systems installations standard and identical. All gear on the Super Maramu was manufactured by Amel itself to its own standards, or was sourced from suppliers considered absolutely reliable. To insure systems are accessible and easy to work on, all machinery is installed under the cockpit in a large engine room with close to standing headroom. Even better, Amel provides superb technical support for all owners of its boats and has dedicated service centers in both Europe and the U.S. that are staffed by certified technicians.

Amel is also very focussed on safety, as is reflected in the Super Maramu’s overzealous construction. Hulls are solid handlaid laminate composed of biaxial cloth set in polyester resin. The cloth is a special flat woven type created especially for Amel that bonds well to itself with minimal voids without intervening layers of mat. Amel also applies a proprietary blister barrier coating directly underneath the gelcoat on all its boats, and this so far has reportedly prevented osmotic blisters from appearing on any Super Maramu hull. Balsa-cored decks on Amels are installed with the hull still in the mold, and the joint is laminated with six layers of cloth so hull and deck together ultimately form a monocoque structure. Inside the Super Maramu there are four full-height watertight bulkheads (two are fitted with watertight interior doors), that were also bonded in place with the hull still in its mold. The deck is solid laminate anywhere hardware in installed; all hardware is mounted with stainless-steel fasteners tapped into stainless-steel plates buried in the laminate.

Amel Super Maramu interior

The boat’s interior is designed to keep water intrusion to an absolute minimum. There are no less than eight watertight compartments aboard with special valved limber pipes routing any stray moisture to a deep central sump. Originally the Super Maramu was built with just three raw-water intakes in the hull (two for the two toilets, plus one for all machinery) and later, in the so-called Millenium edition of the boat produced after 1998, this was reduced to just one intake with one master sea-chest. All outlets, meanwhile, are above the waterline.

The engine installation is also utterly unique and incorporates a proprietary U-drive, wherein the engine is mounted facing aft and its thrust is transmitted via two right-angle joints to a special integral drive leg mounted on the back of the keel. The propeller’s thrust is perfectly horizontal and is all carried by the keel, allowing the engine itself to be mounted on very soft mounts, thus keeping vibration to a minimum. Add on some top-notch sound insulation and what you get is a very quiet ride while motoring.

In terms of sailing performance the Super Maramu, though hardly a dog (particularly on a reach with a mizzen staysail set), is not super fast. The boat does have a modern underbody with a well-shaped fin keel and a separate rudder on a skeg, but its waterline is relatively short. Both the main and mizzen, meanwhile, are handicapped by the hollow leeches required for in-mast furling, and the shrouds are outboard so sheeting angles are commensurately wide. A spinnaker can be flown if desired, but the presumption, in keeping with the emphasis on ease of sailhandling, is that headsails will be poled out instead. To facilitate this there is a unique, easy-to-use twin-pole system for booming out sails from the shrouds.

Amel Super Maramu with jib poled out

There are innumerable other idiosyncratic details on this boat that you will either love or hate, depending on your personal biases. Many, for example, are put off by the faux-teak decking, at least until they realize that it requires no maintenance. A lot of people, too, don’t think much of the blue fiberglass cabin sole that was introduced on the Millenium edition of the boat. Almost everyone, meanwhile, thinks the solid rail encircling the entire deck is a fabulous idea. The Super Maramu, like all Amels, is packed with clever ideas, both large and small, and really the only way to figure out if you appreciate them is get aboard a boat and examine it in detail.

Amel Super Maramu layout

Amel Super Maramu profile


LOA:  52’6”
LWL:  41’4”
Beam:  15’1”
Draft:  6’9”
Ballast:  12,320 lbs.
-Light ship: 31,360 lbs.
-Loaded:  35,840 lbs.
Sail area (100% foretriangle):  1,047 sq.ft.
Fuel:  158 gal.
Water:  264 gal.
D/L ratio
-Light ship:  198
-Loaded:  226
SA/D ratio
-Light ship:  16.81
-Loaded: 15.37
Comfort ratio
-Light ship:  29.00
-Loaded:  33.14
Capsize screening
-Light ship:  1.91
-Loaded:  1.83
Nominal hull speed
-Light ship:  10.2 knots
-Loaded:  9.8 knots

Typical asking prices:  $350K – $625K




Chart detail of Malaga Island

Next stop on my Mini Solo Cruise after Little Chebeague Island was all the way the other side of Casco Bay at the mouth of the New Meadows River. Malaga Island, as you can see, is wedged between Bear Island and the village of Sebasco, which is part of the larger town of Phippsburg on the Cape Small peninsula. I know the east side of this peninsula, which is bounded by the Kennebec River, extremely well, but have only begun exploring the west side in detail since I started sailing Lunacy out of Portland three years ago. I was particularly interested in visiting Malaga because of its grim and unfortunate history, which lately has been discussed much more openly than in the past.

Malaga has been uninhabited for nearly a century now, but was once home to a unique community of white, black, and mixed-race families. The Malaga settlement was started during the Civil War when descendants of Benjamin Darling, a free black, moved there from Horse Island (now called Harbor Island), just south of Malaga. Darling, who is said to have been married to a white woman, had purchased and settled on Horse Island way back in 1794. His descendants were joined on Malaga by other racially mixed families from other islands in Casco Bay.

Residents of Malaga Island

The Malaga community was never prosperous. Like most folk living on the islands of the Maine coast during the 19th century, the Malagites, as they were known, eked out a living fishing and farming and working for others on the mainland. The community’s two dominant personalities were James McKenney, a respected fisherman known as the “King of Malaga,” and John Eason, a carpenter and mason who preached to the islanders on Sundays when the weather was too rough to make it ashore to church.

During the late 19th century, as the coastal economy became increasingly dependent on tourism and summer residents, the Malagites became increasingly controversial. Stories circulated that they were descended from escaped southern slaves and West Indian and African concubines who had been marooned on the island by amorous ship captains. Several local newspapers denounced the islanders as inbred degenerates who were inherently shiftless and immoral.

he school on Malaga Island

The negative attention did inspire a reaction. A pair of progressive missionaries from Boston, George and Lucy Lane, started a school on the island in 1906 and also formed the Malaga Island Settlement Association to help support the islanders. In July 1911 Maine governor Frederick Plaisted toured the island with a group of state officials and he, too, pledged to support its residents. The following year, however, in an abrupt turn-about, Plaisted evicted all the islanders and demanded that all structures on the island be removed or destroyed. Eight of the 40 or so residents, including a healthy infant, were permanently institutionalized at the state School for the Feeble-Minded, where 17 bodies exhumed from the island’s graveyard were also reburied. Most of the remaining residents resettled across the way in Sebasco.

Gov. Plaisted visits Malaga Island

It’s not entirely clear why Plaisted changed his mind and suddenly decided to destroy the community at Malaga, but most likely it was an act of political revenge. Plaisted was elected to office in 1910, primarily on a promise to repeal the state’s alcohol prohibition law, but was unable to prevail in a public referendum on the issue the following year. Coincidentally–or not–many of the wealthy progressives behind the Malaga Island Settlement Association were also active prohibitionists.

Malaga Island today

These days the island is owned by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, which has posted a few historical placards and maintains a trail that leads around the perimeter of the dense spruce forest that covers most of the island’s 42 acres. Several local lobstermen, some of whom are descended from Malaga’s former residents, also store traps and gear on the island.

Fishing gear stored on Malaga Island

I anchored Lunacy in the cove directly north of the island in 20 feet of water at high tide, close to the eastern shore of Bear Island. The bottom there is mud and offers good holding. Before going ashore myself I watched a group of kayakers descend on the shell beach at Malaga’s northwest corner. The group’s leader delivered a very brief lecture to his acolytes–presumably on the island’s history–then everyone suddenly climbed back into their slim little vessels and paddled off up the river.

Lunacy anchored off Malaga Island

After landing my dinghy on the beach, which I assumed is essentially a shell midden left by the Malagites, I quickly understood why the kayakers moved on so quickly. Marching down the trail through the forest, I was soon chewed to a pulp by swarms of hungry mosquitoes. By now it was also getting dark, so I quickly retreated to island’s north end, which is where all the Malagites lived back in the day. Besides all the broken shells on the beach, there is no palpable evidence (other than the small collection of placards posted by the MCHT) of their tenure there. Supposedly there are foundations and dug wells buried in the underbrush, but I wasn’t about to brave the poison ivy in an effort to find them.

After decades of neglect and denial, the world has at last acknowledged what happened at Malaga, which obviously is a good thing. An excellent radio documentary entitled Malaga Island: A Story Best Left Untold has been broadcast (you can listen to it online here), several scholars and journalists have taken an interest in the island, and even a children’s book, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, which won a Newbery Honor Medal in 2005, has been published.

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy cover

But the fate of the Malagites is still a very loaded subject for many people in Maine. Their descendants evidently are still referred to as “Sebasco niggers” by some locals, and even the state government seems very ambivalent about the island’s legacy. Back in April of this year the state legislature passed a resolution officially apologizing for the 1912 Malaga eviction, but the state did absolutely nothing to publicize it. In making its so-called “public apology,” the government apparently still feels a need to keep secrets when it comes to Malaga.



NEIL PRYDE: From Sails to Bicycles


Neil Pryde windsurfer

Those in the sailing universe will instantly recognize Neil Pryde primarily for all its windsurfing mojo, but also as a straight-up sailmaker. I made my second transat, for example, back in 1992 under a suit of sweet Neil Pryde sails on a recently built Taswell 56 named Antipodes. So I was more than a bit intrigued on learning this a.m. that Neil Pryde has just announced they are getting into the bicycle business.

Their bikes, not surprisingly, are both high end and performance oriented…

Neil Pryde Diablo bicycle

Neil Pryde bike top tube

Neil Pryde bike botoom bracket

…as you can see here. The frames are all carbon fiber, fitted out with either top-of-the-line Shimano Dura Ace or next-step-down Ultegra components. Designed in concert with BMW Group DesignworksUSA, the tubular frame sections are carefully shaped to keep airflow laminar along the length of the bicycle, from the front forks all the way back to the seat stays. The carbon laminate is laid up and molded so that continuous fibers are carried through the joints of the front triangle to maximize structural integrity, plus “stiffness ribs” are incorporated into the front fork blades and seat and chain stays.

I’ve always been into bikes for some of the same reasons I’m into sailboats. I think of them both as “perfect machines,” in that they are highly efficient vehicles that require no fuel to operate.

Of course, back in the early 1970s, when I first started obsessing about bikes, the very best road racing machines looked nothing like they do now. Double-butted steel tubing (either Reynolds or Columbus) with lugged joints and alloy Campagnola kit was all to die for.

Masi vintage bicycle

Masi vintage bicycle detail

Ah… those were the days.

One thing that always surprised me, given that there’s a much bigger market for bicycles than there is for sailboats, is that carbon fiber revolutionized sailboat construction long before it hit bicycles. It took a while before they got around to building all-carbon bike frames, but once they did weight dropped dramatically. Back in the day when I was lusting after machines like that Italian Masi up there, the lightest steel bikes weighed 20 to 21 pounds. Now an all-carbon bicycle like these Neil Pryde jammies can weigh less than 15 pounds. I just started riding an all-carbon bike two years ago, and I can tell you the difference feels enormous.

Neil Pryde Bikes is now building two models, called the Diablo and the Alize, with either Dura Ace or Ultegra components. Prices range from $3,950 for an Alize with Ultegra kit to $5,400 for a Diablo with Dura Ace kit. The frames are sold alone for $2,250 and $2,500 respectively. The bikes start shipping next month and are sold only via the Web.


CASCO BAY CRUISE: Little Chebeague Island

Chart of Chandler Cove

Taft & Rinlaub’s Cruising Guide to the Maine Coast is a bit dismissive of Chandler Cove, which is bounded by Great Chebeague Island to the north and east, Little Chebeague Island to the west, and Long Island to the south. The guide complains that the cove is a bit too large and deep to be comfortable in anything but settled weather, but fails to note it is almost perfectly situated as a short-notice get-away hidey hole for people (like me) who keep boats in and around the city of Portland. Many times I have hopped aboard Lunacy very late in the afternoon, cast off her mooring, and have wafted north into Chandler for the night on the remnant of the day’s southwest sea breeze. In the cove’s upper bight there is perfect protection against any northerly nastiness, plus there are always more than a few empty moorings available. Most of these are plenty stout enough to stand up to any southerly wind you are likely to meet during the summer, even if you’re sailing a 21,000-pound tank like Lunacy.

I anchored out in Chandler Cove, just east of Little Chebeague, for the first time during my recent Mini Solo Cruise. The wind was flat-out westerly, so the smaller Chebeague offered better protection than the larger one. Plus, I wasn’t quite in a “pick-up-a-mooring” sort of mood. I dropped the hook in 30 feet of water at low tide (or about 40 feet at high tide), which is a little bit deep, but not too bad.

After working my way through a short punch list of boat chores the following day (including my temporary Gamage damage repairs), I went ashore to explore the island itself.

Unlike Great Chebeague Island, which is thick with both fancy summer houses and lesser permanent residences and enjoys year-round ferry service into downtown Portland, Little Chebeague is currently uninhabited. It is, however, often visited. During the summer, there is a steady stream of camp cruisers who paddle, sail, or motor out in small craft and pitch tents just behind the gravel beach on the island’s east side. The beach itself is a real treasure trove if, like me, you are a connoisseur of beach stones. There is a pronounced tidal swale running through the heart of the beach and just either side of this you can find some interesting specimens.

Little Chebeague Island

Beach stones on Little Chebeague Island

On marching inland you’ll find there are many ruined houses. As with beach stones, I am a great connoisseur of these. In my youth I spent many happy hours sailing a styrofoam Sea Snark from island to island in the mouth of the Kennebec River exploring ruined summer homes. So, again, I felt very much as though I’d stumbled across some treasure here.

Ruined house on Little Chebeague Island

Another ruined house on Little Chebeague Island

Plaque for ruined house on Little Chebeague Island

Unlike the ruined houses of my youth, which were entirely uncategorized, most of those on Little Chebeague are now neatly labelled and historicized with plaques that give the names of the wealthy merchants and professionals who built and summered in them way back when.

Little Chebeague also once had a grand hotel on it, but this (as seems to have been common with shoreside hotels in Maine during the late 19th century) burned to the ground and little trace of it remains. Fortunately, no lives were lost in the blaze. Ironically, during World War II the U.S. Navy inhabited the island and, among other things, gave lessons in firefighting. This is what the very large rusty steel box on the island’s east side (the most prominent landmark, by far, for anyone examining the island from Chandler Cove) was used for.

If you do hike inland on Little Chebeague, be warned that there is lots of poison ivy and more than a few ticks. Stick to the trails, wear bug spray, and do a careful tick check after returning to your boat.

Birds on my spreaders

While anchored off Little Chebeague, I also encountered some cool birds. In the late morning, as I worked on my list of jobs, I saw a bald eagle sweep by overhead. That evening some osprey came out and fished successfully for fish in the cove. The following morning my spreaders were alive with swallows.




50th Anniversary Omega Speedmaster chronograph

This is my Omega Speedmaster, a fancy mechanical chronograph that my wife gave me for my birthday a couple of years back. It is, in fact, a special 50th anniversary edition of this legendary time piece, released back in 2007, when I myself turned 50.

Watch fanatics will at once remember the Speedmaster as the first and only watch ever worn on the moon. NASA conducted extensive tests back in the 1960s to discover which watches could function reliably outside spacecraft during space walks, and the Speedmaster was the only one that passed muster. It was thus duly anointed as NASA’s official space watch. Later, when the shit hit the fan on Apollo 13 and the power went down, the crew used their Speedmasters to manually time the rocket burns that brought them safely back to Earth.

But what I really want to discuss is not the watch itself. Instead, please focus on the telemeter bezel ring circumnavigating the watch face.

Like most contemporary chronographs, my Speedmaster came equipped with a tachometer bezel ring. These allow you to measure the speed of a moving object over a fixed distance. I wasn’t too interested in this feature, as my car has a reasonably accurate speedometer and my boat has a very accurate GPS unit. Even if they didn’t, I wasn’t about to go around measuring off fixed distances just so I could usefully punch the buttons on my fancy new watch.

So I had the tachometer ring removed and replaced it with a telemeter ring. These were first developed during World War I so that hapless troops in trenches could accurately calculate distances between them and the artillery bombarding them. You see the flash of the artillery and hit the button that starts your chronograph’s stopwatch function. When you hear the boom following the flash, you stop the watch. Then you see where the big sweep second hand has come to rest in relation to the telemeter bezel, and it tells you the distance to whatever it was that made the flash in the first place.

I figured I could use my telemeter chronograph to reckon distances between me and thunderstorms while on the water. Except, of course, I realized later this watch isn’t terribly waterproof and is bit too fancy anyway to wear on boats.

No problem. Study the telemeter ring closely and you’ll see that the miles rate out roughly at five-second intervals. So now I use this very simple rule whenever I’m caught out in a summer thunderstorm: each five seconds of delay between a flash of lightning and its accompanying thunder clap equals one statute mile (NOT a nautical mile) of distance between me and the thunderstorm in question.

What could be simpler???

BoaterMouth link: here

THE BOY, ME AND THE CAT: The First Snow Birds

Drawing of Mascot from The Boy Me and the Cat
These days voyaging south down the U.S. East Coast via the Intracoastal Waterway is so commonplace as to be cliché. Literally thousands of cruisers now make the pilgrimage annually. Calling themselves “snowbirds,” they ply the murky waters of the ICW in all manner of vessels, both power and sail, and pride themselves on the tobacco-colored bow stains that denote multiple annual transits.

But back in the early 20th century, when long-distance cruising was still in its infancy, taking a boat all the way from New England to Florida was a challenging proposition. One of the first to take up the challenge–and perhaps the very first to do so under sail–was an unassuming insurance salesman from New Bedford, Massachusetts, named Henry Plummer. An avid amateur sportsman who enjoyed hiking, hunting, and sailing, Plummer had long dreamed of embarking on an extended cruise and at last got his chance after retiring early in 1912 at age 47.

Plummer and his second-oldest son, Henry Jr., age 20, spent all that summer preparing for the journey. To train for entering surf-ridden inlets they spent hours riding breaking waves on a local sandbar in a 15-foot canvas canoe. They modified Plummer’s old 24-foot Cape Cod catboat, Mascot, adding shelving, cabinets, a galley stove, and a heater to her interior. They also installed a 3-horsepower inboard gasoline engine in a 15-foot dory, which they intended to use both as a tender and as a tug for towing the engineless Mascot when she could not sail.

Mascot at anchor, from The Boy Me and the Cat

Finally, just before departing on October 14, Plummer press-ganged the last member of his crew into service. “Crawled under the shed, caught the cat, rubbed her full of flea powder, and dropped her into a gunny sack to moult,” he wrote. “Will have troubles enough without fleas.”

In many respects, Plummer’s experience as he traveled south exactly anticipated those of the many others who have since followed in his wake. Primarily, he was pressed for time, as early winter gales hampered his progress and made it that much harder to get south before the weather got even worse. Between shaking down his boat and crew and waiting on weather, it took him almost two weeks just to get down Long Island Sound to New York City.

The culmination of this first leg was one of those wild, event-filled days so characteristic of small-boat sailing. Within the space a few hours Plummer tore his mainsail, extinguished a fire onboard, rescued five helpless men he found adrift in a rowboat, lost control of his vessel in the tide-tortured waters of Hell Gate, repeatedly collided with a barge in the East River, and yet still managed his best day’s run to date of 54 miles from sun up to sun down (“that’s some going for a 24-foot boat,” he noted in his log) before tying up for the night in Brooklyn’s Erie Basin.

Drawing of Erie Basin from The Boy Me and the Cat

In other respects, his experience was unique. The biggest difference between then and now was that in 1912 the ICW as we know it today did not exist. Only seven years later did Congress authorize its creation, and it wasn’t until 1939 that it actually became operational.

Plummer did however get to take advantage of one very important inland waterway that is now only a memory. This was the Delaware & Raritan Canal, the so-called “missing link” in the ICW, which first opened in 1834, yet closed in 1933, before the rest of the system was complete. Entering the D&R at New Brunswick, New Jersey, on November 3, Plummer made himself some makeshift fenders by filling gunny sacks with dry leaves, then locked through directly from New York Bay to the Delaware River below Trenton in two easy days, thus bypassing all of the Jersey shore and Delaware Bay.

Delaware & Raritan Canal photo from The Boy Ma and the Cat

Another unique aspect of Plummer’s cruise was his determination to “live off the land.” Armed with a shotgun and a small .22-caliber rifle with a silencer (nicknamed “Helen Keller”), he and his son spent much time shooting birds as they sailed south. Many of their victims were tasty game fowl taken out of season, kills they obliquely identified in the log as livestock, such as cows and “blue-nosed pigs,” so as not to incriminate themselves. Others were much less palatable sea fowl, and early on Henry Jr. complained of having to eat such fare.

“Old squaw stew for dinner, and Henry had to run from the cabin,” wrote Plummer on November 18. “Foolish boy, he needs starving.”

One rather surprising fact was that the Plummers found they had company. While transiting the D&R, and later at the entrance to the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal, they met a couple in an open 26-foot motor launch who were also bound for Florida.

“Heaven I hope will help the outfit or wreck them on some friendly shore,” wrote Plummer, “for the man had neither charts nor directions and didn’t know the meaning or use of buoys.”

Soon afterwards in Norfolk, Virginia, they encountered another small motor launch heading for Florida, Querida, manned by two young men on assignment for Motor Boating magazine. One of them was Alf Loomis, age 22, who went on to become one of the most influential boating journalists of his time. The articles he wrote on this trip marked the beginning not only of his own career, but of public interest in the East Coast’s inland waterways as a long-distance cruising ground.

Photo from The Boy Me and the Cat

Mascot later met both vessels again on Albemarle Sound in North Carolina not long after locking through the Chesapeake & Albemarle Canal below Norfolk. She also met Querida again in Beaufort several days later after working her way down Pamlico Sound and the Neuse River. “All this meeting and passing of boats on the same quest adds much to the interest,” noted Plummer cheerfully. And certainly this is a sentiment contemporary snowbirds can easily relate to.

Proceeding south from Beaufort, as is true of modern sailboats today, Mascot was forced into open water. On December 11, after a night offshore, there came a sudden change in the weather and rather than risk getting caught out rounding Frying Pan Shoals off Cape Fear in a gale, Plummer elected to try entering New Inlet just north of the cape. His chart showed 4 feet of water here, just enough for Mascot’s draft of 3-1/2 feet, but in fact the inlet had silted up. First Mascot and then the launch were driven hard aground in breaking waves. By the end of the day the former had a gaping hole in her hull and the latter was in pieces.

Plummer and his son spent the next eight days marooned on the open beach working feverishly to repair the damage. As Plummer described it:

It took us three days to repair the launch and when we finished, the whole stern was made up of canvas patches, putty and copper tacks. The engine was full of salt water and sand, so we had to take it all to pieces and rebuild it. We then put Mascot on the beach and patched the hole two-foot long in her side with a bit of canvas well painted and laid over some sail battens. This patch was my pride and has never been removed.

Photo from The Boy Me and the Cat

After another week spent perfecting their repairs at nearby Southport, the Plummers again headed offshore and again were caught by weather. They spent a full day hove-to off the coast in a strong gale and though Mascot fared well enough, the launch, tethered at the end of a 60-foot tow line, was almost swamped. Henry Jr., however, stripped naked and managed to board her in breaking seas to bail her out. Finally the pair safely reached Georgetown, South Carolina, where at last they were able to come inside again.

But now the Plummers faced a different sort of challenge. For it was here, as they gunkholed south through the creeks and marshes of South Carolina and Georgia and on into Florida, that father and son suffered most for not having a well marked, well dredged waterway to navigate upon. The wind-driven tides were fickle and unpredictable, the navigation aids crude and unreliable, and the water relentlessly shallow. By the end of January 1913 they had reached northern Florida and progress was painfully slow as Mascot was now routinely running aground as many as four or five times a day. Getting her off again often involved much laborious shifting of ballast, setting of anchors, and heaving and hauling.

Drawing from The Boy Me and the Cat

By mid-February they were only as far as Daytona. Here Henry Jr. hit on the bold notion of “taking the launch and making a dash for the pole,” as his father put it. The launch was duly converted into an open-air camping machine, but in the end, after a cold northeast wind set in, the Plummers elected to stay aboard Mascot. With her ballast entirely removed, they found her much more manageable in the thin water behind Florida’s barrier beaches and at last reached Miami on March 3.

“I guess this is the southern end of the cruise,” wrote Plummer somewhat wistfully. “I want to go a-fishing and I want to go down among the Keys, but the season is getting on and indeed the road northward is long. The south point on my compass is all rounded off from steady use, and you can hardly read read the letter ‘S’ it is so worn.”

The Plummers spent little more than a week in Miami and most of that time had Mascot on the hard up the Miami River for a refit. In a precise bit of emotional punctuation, it was at this turning point that Scotty, the ship’s cat, who had often thrown hysterical fits in Mascot’s tiny cabin, died in the arms of her skipper. “We gave her a sailor’s burial in the Miami River,” noted Plummer mournfully, “and by mutual understanding have not mentioned her name since.”

The return trip, as so often happens, went much more smoothly. The weather now was improving and Mascot and her crew were seasoned waterway veterans. In just a month and a half they reached Norfolk again, averaging better than 30 miles a day sailing only by daylight. A month later, by June 1, they were back on Long Island Sound, with enough time in hand to make the last leg of their journey a lazy, leisurely affair. Finally arriving in New Bedford on June 22, they had in all spent 8 months completing their 3,000-mile circuit of the East Coast.

Soon afterwards the world as Henry Plummer knew it changed dramatically. Henry Jr., who was in England selling coal-mining equipment soon after World War I broke out in 1914, joined first the French ambulance corps and then the U.S. Army after America entered the war in 1917. He, fortunately, survived the rigors of the Western Front (and lived until 1963), but Plummer’s oldest son, Charles, an aviator, did not. Nor did his older brother, Thomas, who died in France serving in the American Red Cross.

Plummer himself finally passed away in 1928, having sold Mascot only shortly before he died to Wyn Mayo of Kittery, Maine (just across the Piscataqua River from where I now live in Portsmouth, New Hampshire). Mayo cruised the boat locally for another 20 years and in 1946 treated her to a thorough refit. The following year he took Mascot on an extended cruise of the Maine coast. Tragically, the beloved old boat, then aged 65, was destroyed in a fire that summer. Rumor had it, however, that her remains were used as a lobster car for many years thereafter.

Cover of The Boy Me and the Cat

PS: Plummer’s book about this groundbreaking cruise has long been hailed by the cognoscenti as “the greatest cruising story ever written,” though it is still a relatively obscure text. Originally the book was published by Plummer himself in a limited mimeographed private edition (replete with many drawings), and laying hands on a copy was said to be “about as simple as borrowing a man’s favorite wife.”

Fortunately, this is no longer the case. At least two commercial editions are currently in print (the cover above is from the Narrative Press edition). There is also a very nice edition put out by the non-profit Catboat Association, which is the one I most recommend. It has all the original illustrations, plus many interesting photographs.

BoaterMouth link: here

2010 DOWNEAST CHALLENGE Results: Meet the Jeanneau One Design 35

David Hill and Phil Cavanaugh on Alida

You may have noticed I haven’t been in a huge rush to blog about the offshore race in which Team SEMOSA competed the week before last. If you’re assuming this was because we did poorly, you wouldn’t be far wrong.

We ran the race on Phil Cavanaugh’s Baltic 35 Alida, which we have campaigned with some success in the Piscataqua Sailing Association‘s Tuesday night beer-can series over the past few years. Because the Downeast Challenge course runs from Marblehead, Mass., to Rockland, Maine, where I once sailed regularly, Phil anointed me navigator. I’d never been a racing navigator before. One perk, I discovered, is that the navigator can easily think of important reasons why he should be belowdeck when conditions on deck suck.

For example, at the end of this race, when we were trying to thread our way into Penobscot Bay through fog and pouring rain, I spent all my time sitting at the nice dry nav station watching for obstacles on the chartplotter and radar. Meanwhile, Phil and our newest SEMOSA member, David Hill (on the left above), got thoroughly soaked up in the cockpit.

The start off Marblehead, on Sat. July 24, was very light and drifty, as you can see here:

2010 DownEast Challenge pre-start

We totally nailed it, though. Which is in keeping with the Team SEMOSA MO when it comes to race starts: we’re either first across or we really screw it up. In this instance, soon after we crossed the line the wind started filling in nicely from the east. A few of the faster boats passed us outright before we made it to Cape Ann; we also lost ground to some comparable and/or slower boats when the navigator (damn him!) led us a little too far inshore on one tack.

Once around Cape Ann we were on a moderate close reach for the rest of the day and most of the night. The boats closest to us were Mermaid, a flawlessly maintained vintage 44-foot S&S wooden ketch built by Paul Luke, and Walkabout, a Tartan 10 sailed solo by Doug Pope (of Pope Sails), who once made a great suit of sails for my Golden Hind 31 Sophie back in the day. Doug has owned Walkabout for a while now and has made several cool modifications, including adding a rather high-aspect doghouse over the companionway, which you can see here in this photo from before the start:

Doug Pope aboard Walkabout

We were sort of holding our own, barely clinging to the skirts of Mermaid and Walkabout (both of which we owed a little time to), when the wind shifted slightly more on the beam right before sunset. Aha! we thought. Here’s our chance! And we hoisted our A-sail. (Rather smartly, I might add.) But as soon as the sun was down and the light faded, Phil, who was on the helm, suddenly seemed to lose his mind. In an apparent bid to change his official SEMOSA nickname from “Snake Wake” to “Wrong Way,” he began steering the boat in all sorts of wild directions, including straight back south toward Cape Ann.

After a big kerfuffle on the foredeck, where I succeeded in getting the chute down after it was backwinded into the rig, I made it aft to the cockpit and discovered what the problem was. The weird backlighting on the B&G instrument display had rendered it totally illegible, and the compass light was far too dim for any middle-aged helmsperson to read the card beneath it.

By the time we got everything sorted, Mermaid and Walkabout were long gone and two other boats that had previously been way way behind us were breathing down our neck. Fortunately, we succeeded in getting away from them again and kept sailing at a good rate until the very early morning.

Soon after sunrise on Sunday, as mentioned, the wind went light and shifty in the foggy rock-strewn approaches to Penobscot Bay and it started pissing down rain. After the rain stopped, our ringer, Chas. “May I Cast Off Now?” Lassen was persuaded to come on deck and steer for a bit.

Fortunately, the tide was inbound, our navigator had some sense of where the current was fastest, and Mr. Lassen’s helming was steady and true. When the fog finally lifted, we were very gratified to see both Mermaid and Walkabout not too far in front of us. We did manage to catch up to Mermaid, right off Owl’s Head, a few hundred yards from the finish, but their young, eager crew launched a chute as soon as we brought the wind to them. We were not willing to follow their example, and they finished about four minutes in front of us.

Chas. Lassen steering Alida off Owl's Head

In the end, we finished third in Class B out of four boats both on both elapsed and corrected time. Overall we were fifth out of 12 boats on corrected time, but only ninth on elapsed time.

In studying the results, the boat we were most impressed with was Mainstay 5, a Jeanneau One Design 35 (or JOD 35), owned by James Coughlin of Northport, Maine. I had never heard of these before and was struck by the boat’s attractive lines before we started the race. Mainstay took line honors overall and was first in Class A (out of four boats) on elapsed and corrected time, though she had the highest PHRF rating (84) in her group. She finished all of seven minutes ahead of the lowest rated boat in her class, a very racy Akilaria Class 40 (PHRF -9!) named Toothsome.

Mainstay is currently for sale for what seems a very reasonable asking price of $49K. Doug Pope claims she is the only one of her type in the United States.

The JOD 35 is much better known in Europe, where they were built by Jeanneau from 1991 to ’95. Designed by Daniel Andrieu as an affordable one-design inshore boat for a full crew, the JOD 35 has since become popular with singlehanded offshore racers sailing on a budget. Evidently, there’s still at least one active one-design fleet in Portugal. I hear also that several of the singlehanded boats have had water ballast tanks added, as they do need weight on the rail to sail well.

JOD 35 under sail

JOD 35 at anchor

JOD 35 cockpit

JOD 35 interior

JOD 35 profile drawing


LOA:  34.76 ft.

LWL:  29.69 ft.

Beam: 11.48 ft.

Draft:  6.4 ft.

Displacement:  8,070 lbs.

Ballast:  2,750 lbs. (lead)

Sail area: 588.38 sq.ft.

Fuel:  14 gal.

Water:  14 gal.


PS: Many thanks to the Marblehead Yacht Club and the Rockland Yacht Club for hosting the Downeast Challenge!

BoaterMouth link: here