Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A boat is a boat, right? Nope.

By now, most of us who've crewed the Monomoy know her unique characteristics- she rows remarkably fast, beaches well, sails slowly and steadily and will try to shake off any tow line. Most of these are unique to her particular design. Her shallow draft and sleek lines give her great speed under oars, but her lack of a skeg (or any underwater appendages for that matter) mean she tows like a scow. In addition, her sailing rig seems small - and it is. When the Navy ordered the standard Monomoy Pulling Boat after 1889, it came stock with a dipping lug rig. Everyone in the boat last Friday evening knows why - its a very durable rig, and great for the unexpected 'wind-has-shifted, going to blow you over' moments.

Before I go into this, no I haven't completed the lessons learned from CTC. There is more of that to follow later in the week.

Back on topic, other boats have different characteristics. Distinctly different.

For instance, the 24-foot Launch currently under construction (I hope you're as sick of hearing that as I am) in the dockyard is a slow and ponderous vessel under oars. Although she rows 12, fully 50% more than the Monomoy, her great round lines don't lend well to quick maneuvering under oars. And did I mention that she also weighs 50% more than the Monomoy? Very different boat.

And nowhere is that more apparent than under sail. Under sail, the slow and stalwart launch becomes a swift and agile sea bird. Her comparatively huge press of canvas will sail circles around the Monomoy, and tack in less than half the time and effort. She carries no leeboard, relying instead on her 6" tall external keel to provide lateral resistance. The same appendage, in conjunction with her skeg, makes her a joy to tow - tracking straight and in line with the tow boat.

Her one other fault is beaching. While the Monomoy is a relatively easy boat to beach, the launch will be a bit of a bear. How much of a bear? Well if you remember what we did with the chase boat at CTC, we'll probably end up doing that with the launch. She'll beach readily enough, but she won't stay there. Her flat transom will cause her to broach in the incoming waves, eventually rolling her over.

But no boat is perfect.


Our next event is HarborFest in Downtown Norfolk - please start passing the word on this, as it is a VERY high visibility event and we'll want a good full crew with plenty of substitutes. Don't worry, its a very low impact event, and I anticipate a good, relaxing weekend enjoying the festivities.

More to follow.



Sunday, May 16, 2010

Conquer the Chesapeake, After Action Report

Alright, I know everyone is waiting to hear how everything went. All in all we had a great event, nobody was hurt and both the boat and the crew made it across and back safely. Like any event with so much riding on it, it was not without its hangups. So, lets start with a summary, directly from the boat's log:

**** 14 May 2010 ****
1930 - Underway, First Landing State Park Beach, worked into Chesapeake Bay under oars.
1937 - Set Sail, course NNE.
1958 - Navigation lights rigged.
2000 - Chesapeake Bridge Tunnel Thimble Shoals Channel Tunnel N. Island bears NW.
2004 - Sounding taken, five fathoms.
2031 - Entered Thimble Shoals Channel.
2038 - Exited Thimble Shoals Channel.
2100 - Cape Henry Lighthouse bears SExS.
2108 - Rigged Aldis Lamp with tape, made Bat Signal on sail, much to the enjoyment of the crew.
2205 - Entered Chesapeake Channel at the tunnel, observed heat lightning to the North.
2208 - Exited Chesapeake Channel.
2209 - Change Course NExN.
2245 - Lightning bolt observed due North beyond the horizon.
2255 - Lightning bolt observed due North on the horizon.
2300 - Change course NE.
2301 - Kiptopeke lights bear NExE.
2312 - Lightning observed in vicinity of Cape Charles (city). Thunderhead observed during lighning strike.
2331 - Lightning observed in vicinity of Kiptopeke.

****15 May 2010 ****
0012 - Squals from the North, bore up and reefed.
0020 - Encountered rain squall.
0045 - Change course ExS, shook reef.
0105 - Winds light and variable.
0115 - Pulled weather oars.
0133 - Kiptopeke green light bears ExS.
0152 - Took in sail and proceeded under oars.
0158 - Passed between breakwaters at Kiptopeke.
0206 - Beached at Kiptopeke State Park, South Beach. Made fast with best anchor trailed astern on eight fathoms cable and made fast, tow line bent onto bow line and made fast to fence post ashore.
0905 - Underway from beach.
0912 - Spoke two concrete ships aground off Kiptopeke. Ships had nothing to say.
0920 - Moored at Kiptopeke Ramp North Dock with bow and stern lines. Discharged V. Keranen and S. Hendricks. Received onboard A. Green and C. Flores. Took on water and provisions.
1015 - Underway from Kiptopeke under oars, course WxS.
1047 - Change course SxE.
1100 - Chesapeake Channel Tunnel North Island bears SW.
1107 - Lost vang bucket over the side. Rigged second bucket.
1218 - Winds decreasing, holding NxE.
1220 - Passed under North Channel Bridge.
1224 - Changed course SWxS.
1305 - Thimble Shoals Channel Tunnel Northern Island bears WxS.
1340 - Winds light and variable.
1349 - Took in main sail, proceeding under oars.
1355 - Made sail on light wind from NE. Lost starboard oarlock, #2 thwart.
1402 - Becalmed, pulled weather oars.
1405 - Signalled chase boat to pass tow line, towed SxW toward Cape Henry.
1412 - Sprung the leeboard 14" below the gunwale.
1455 - Cast off tow line, proceeding downwind under sail on light NE breeze.
1500 - Cape Henry Light bears SSW.
1524 - Signalled chase boat to close and pass tow line, towed W against ebb tide.
1600 - Cape Henry Light bears SE.
1608 - Cast off tow line, proceeding WxS under oars.
1648 - Change course SWxS, made sail.
1657 - Took in main sail, proceeding under oars toward beach.
1712 - Beached at First Landing State Park. Best anchor trailed astern with six fathoms cable and made fast. Bow line handed.


We started with a great crew. Our total crew strength was 12 people, with two people leaving and two joining in Kiptopeke. Each had met several wickets in order to participate, the foremost being attendance at a training event where they had to qualify in all the basic skills required for the trip. All had gone through the evolutions, from rowing to sailing, anchoring, being towed, beaching and getting underway through surf.

One newcomer was veteran sailor Mr. Victor Keranen. A 78 year old cancer survivor, Mr. Keranen is a veteran of the US Navy and Merchant Marine - and one tough old salt. Of course there was a moment of pause when the idea of having a 78 year old gent - whatever his age - would be advisable, let alone safe. So amongst the controversy Mr. Keranen volunteered to help with shore-side support instead. He did participate in the towing of the boat from the launch site to the beach at First Landing, which was thought of as a compromise between his initial request and our reservations. But it was on that transit that we realized that our reservations were crap. Because while Mr. Keranen had the experience and knowledge of an old veteran, he had the spirit and abilities of a man half his age! Needless to say that when one of our crew members dropped out with Bronchitis, Mr. Keranen joined in his place. All was right with the world, and we were stoked.

Friday night was some of the best sailing I've yet had in the Monomoy, with a fine steady 10 knot breeze from the Southwest carrying us steadily toward our goal. We steered NExN and let the flood tide push us up the Chesapeake Channel, right over the tunnel. From the beach to the tunnel we made good about three knots, and we were doing quite well. From there things started to change.

Just after crossing over the tunnel we began to pick up speed. The change wasn't much apparent to anyone in the boat, as we were running well with the wind - the apparent wind not much changing. But word from the chase boat afterward was that we had a significant bow wave and a great slick running aft. Around the same time we started to see lightning in the distance to the North, but that was pretty much concurrent with the weather forecast - they should stay well to the North. Just after midnight the wind dropped away, then suddenly came howling out of the North. Heeling well over we bore up and reefed, then resumed our course, hauling ass toward our destination, the steering oar vibrating with the speed. Around this time began the confusion about the location of our destination. Navigation aids on the Eastern Shore are few and far between, and those that do exist are rather difficult to find. We sailed toward what we thought must surely be Kiptopeke, only to find later that we overshot by more than four miles. As soon as we realized our error we turned and headed ExS. Oh yeah, and we did all this in the rain while lightning streaked across the sky. Lesson learned: Kiptopeke's navigation aids are very difficult to see - so steer for the parking lot lights instead.

We got in around 2 AM, secured the boat and broke out our tents. I should mention here some particular thanks and immense gratitude to our support personnel - who transported our tents and camping gear to Kiptopeke, along with water, provisions, fuel for the chase boat, sunscreen, bugspray - well, everything. We definately could not have done this without you guys!

Despite the fatigue of the previous night, everyone was up by 7 AM. We had breakfast and relaxed a bit, then cleaned up and got underway to have a look at the sunken ships that form the breakwater. We then tied up to the launch ramp docks to take on provisions and swap out a few crew members.

We got underway just after 10 AM and stood out a bit away from shore. We sailed downwind, keeping to the Beach Channel to pass beneath the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. We made good speed, about 4 knots all the way to the bridge. And just like the day before, the wind changed at that point, this time dying off to a faint breeze. Our speed dropped right off, and before long we were becalmed, breaking down the sailing rig and rowing for our objective. But by that time, the ebb tide had caught us and we were quickly drifting out into the Atlantic. That was when we called uncle and called in our trusty chase boat to take us in tow. Of course, it was during this tow that we heard a resounding crack, that being our leeboard cracking about a foot below the gunwale. Oh well - that just means we can only sail downwind.

Once back safely inside the bay, we took up rowing again. Despite the difficulty of pulling against the tide, we once again proved our worth and darted toward the beach, using the swells to help us make headway. As we approached the shallows, we'd turn and fight out again, then turn and row back. We did this for about a mile, all the way back to First Landing. As we cleared the last fish traps on our run Westward, we set the sail for a short run on the Northeast wind, then took in the sail, stepped the mast and rowed the last few hundred yards to the shore.


A word about the difficulties. Obviously the thunderstorm and squalls on the way North, and the flat calm on the way south were troublesome. But we had one more issue on the way South - my temper. We were all quite tired, and moving more slowly than usual. So it shouldn't have been a surprise when things didn't run as smoothly as they might have during some evolutions. I snapped at the crew, yelling at one person in particular, and opened up on the boat very much like the thunderstorm had the night before. The heat, near total exhaustion and lack of sleep certainly played a factor, but the fact is that it was improper of me, and no way to deal with a difficult situation - I appologize to you members in the crew for that. Of course the person I got into it with happens to be a particular friend of mine (Ted, our Bow Hook and second in command of the boat), and a few bottles of water, some electrolytes and energy bars later, there are no hard feelings.

Point is that you all know you are $*&t hot, that last stretch of rowing along the beach, setting sail rapidly then breaking down just as fast and rowing in to storm the beach proved it. It was awesome. I am exceedingly proud to be a part of the whole thing, and am looking forward to the next event in June.


More information and lessons learned to follow - this is long enough an entry as it is.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

We came, we saw, we CONQUERED!

Yes, we made it - there and back. Just got the boat back to the dockyard and all secured.

Just wanted to let everyone know we're still alive.

More to follow.


Thursday, May 13, 2010


The time has come and now we get to put all of our training and preparation to the test!

First, a weather update. Tomorrow is expected partly cloudy with a chance of thunderstorms in the evening. Chance of isolated showers, 20%. Winds SW at 8-12 kts.

Saturday, much the same as Friday, winds veering N, 6-8 kts. Not great wind to go north by.

And because of the weather, the NEW schedule: (PLAN B is in effect)

Friday May 14
1300-1500 Meet the crew and see the boat at the First Landing State Park Offices
1515 Proceed to Lynnhaven Inlet for launch, tow to beach
1600-1830 Meet the crew and see the boat, First Landing State Park Beach
1900 Depart First Landing State Park
2400 Arrive Kiptopeke State Park

Saturday May 15
0800 Kiptopeke Cleanup with the crew
0900 Depart Kiptopeke State Park
1500 Arrive First Landing State Park, trip complete

Last, a list of improvements made to the Monomoy in the last two weeks:
- sail was trimmed and the leach re-roped to take up the slack in the leach and clew of the sail. This should provide better performance to windward.
- new yard produced, laminated from close grain fir, tested to withstand 300 lbs lateral load at the halyard tye.
- leeboard now has one roseline and one brail vice two roselines.
- equipped with beach anchor and shackle, to bury the bow line in the beach
- recieved and put aboard electric light package, battery powered, for night sailing

That's it, we're on our way. Watch the local news and media for more about our crossing until we get back.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Brick Tamland where are you?

So since I've started watching the weather forecasts closely, I've come to realize just how much variation there is from one forecast to another - and both from reputable sources. It just goes to show how comparatively little we know about weather, and confirms my suspicions that meteorologists are in fact sucessful or not based on luck or lack thereof.
That being said, where is Brick Tamland when you need him?
I'm not going to post more weather information until Thursday night. Not that it isn't looking favorable - actually it looks great. But until the predictions stabilize, it makes no sense for me to post them.
Stay tuned.

Monday, May 10, 2010

And so it comes to this

I have never watched the weather as closely as I have begun to today. Five days from now, the Monomoy Pulling Boat's crew will attempt to cross Chesapeake Bay from Cape Henry to Cape Charles - a trip which relies heavily on the weather to cooperate. So, for the next several days as the last minute preparations are made and finalized, the only reporting I'll be doing is re-posting the weather and its expected impact on our crossing, both Northbound on Satuday and Southbound on Sunday.

This is still several days out, so accuracy cannot be expected until we get closer.


Partly Cloudy, 20-30% chance of rain
WINDS: Westerly at 6-10 knots

Assessment: GOOD. Fair sailing until we reach Fisherman's Island, when we'll need to beat off a dangerous lee shore, dotted with fish traps and guarded by Lattimer Shoals - a minimum depth of 3 feet, dangerous even for the Monomoy.

Plan: steer NxW and cross the bridge/tunnel as soon as possible. If possible, keep off the Eastern Shore far enough to reach downwind on the approach to Kiptopeke.

ETA Kiptopeke: 1300


Same as above
WINDS: North shifting Northeast 8-10 knots.

Assessment: EXCELLENT. Not only will we be able to stand out and away from Kiptopeke under sail, but we'll have freedom to choose where we cross the bridge tunnel without worrying about position on the other side. Expect a smooth crossing entirely under sail.

Plan: Use the tide to run down the North Channel toward the Atlantic, then turn due South and run downwind on a starboard reach to compensate for the cross current in Thimble Shoals Channel.

ETA First Landing: 1200

Not too shabby, but keep your fingers crossed.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Hey Joey Guns! I have a new toy for you!

It's clogging up my damned shop entry and weighs a sodding ton! Worse yet it's on one of those horrible green rolly carts and the tires are damned near flat. Someone had better get their hide over here and shift this thing into the gunner's cage where it belongs!

Or maybe I'm making too big a deal of this.

Here at the dockyard we just took delivery of our first gun - a light 3-pdr from Lion's Den Arms. The proprietor, Mr. Les Szabo was very helpful in not only arranging the transaction but also providing specifications for the gun's naval carriage. That carriage is currently back-burnered as the dockyard crew presses on with final preparations for the Monomoy's crossing of Chesapeake Bay. But very soon after, the attention will shift back to it, and hopefully by June we'll see her fitted out and afloat.

For now, I'm still making my calls to get some help here.


Something's lurking... don't think I don't see what you're up to

There have been many things rumbling around the dockyard lately, and I do mean rumbling.

For starters, the new ordnance carts we purchased to move the new 3-pdr gun and all its equipment have been shuffling in, out and about. I've noticed one of them is a little - um - bent up (?) and we don't even have the gun barrel in yet. Reports said the carpenters were moving trees? Riiiiight. Well at least we can look forward to getting that gun barrel in today (yes, it is arriving today, truck freight) so maybe that will keep those damned rolly rolly wagons out of my way.

Another rumbling around is the sound of the truck we use to haul the Monomoy trailer. The high pitched wisp wisp wisp is probably a clutch needing to be replaced. Where is our motor mechanized division when we need them? Maybe we need to start looking hard into something beefier.

And the last rumbling - that everyone thinks I know nothing about - I hear talk of a "secret weapon". In and amongst the conversation I hear the word "womper". Don't think I haven't seen that movie and don't know what you're talking about. Anyone who is planning on stuffing more canvas onto a boat needs to have it properly approved first. Don't waste your time trying to produce something that will only get shot down in the end. Enough said.

Now, on the same note, if you want to produce another, larger sail, you can start doing some math. Prove to me your concept could work and we'll talk about getting it made. I rather like the idea of an alternative "fair weather" rig for the Monomoy... just don't pretend that you're going to hoist anything up that mast so much as a napkin without my approval.



Sunday, May 2, 2010

There's no stopping this tough boat - or her crew!

Yesterday was our last training session for Conquer the Chesapeake 2010 - an event happening later this month where we will attempt to row and sail across Chesapeake Bay from Cape Henry to Cape Charles. The training sessions are meant to introduce new crew members to the boat, and exercise our skills, both in seamanship and teamwork. Yesterday was certainly the best training session we've had yet, providing both a great time and a fair share of challenges for the crew.

Getting underway from the MWR Marina at Naval Station Norfolk around 1000, we stood Northwest for Strawberry Banks in Hampton. Sailing well, we made about 6 knots as we entered Hampton Roads. However, it was there that we met our first challenge, when the yard sprung at the halyard tye. After unbending the sail from the yard, we bent it onto one of our oars, and hoisted that instead. The oar served well as a yard for the remainder of the trip, despite the unsightly oar blade protruding forward of the sail.

Our next challenge was on landing at Strawberry Banks, where our tandem anchor rig fouled and caused some confusion. Designed to moor our chase boat offshore, the messenger line became twisted at the buoy block. The monomoy crew re-embarked, got underweigh and fished the anchor and re-rig the messenger line, maneuvering without the aid of the steering oar with great success. Rack up one more victory for teamwork and good oarsmanship.

Getting underway from Strawberry Banks, we rowed Southwest into Hampton Roads and anchored for lunch. The transfer of stores from the chase boat to the Monomoy went much more smoothly than last weekend, the packages being securely sealed and tossed from boat to boat as the chase boat made a quick pass.

On the way back to Norfolk, we made good time until swept by the ebb tide over the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, where we stepped our mast and rowed back into Willoughby Bay under the East bridge. Again, some teamwork and a hard pull at the oars managed to get us the half-mile into the bay directly into the wind and a three knot current.

Hard rowing, great sailing, repairs on the fly - a great session.

So to all who came out, thanks for another great day on the water!


A new yard for the Monomoy (a solid piece this time) is being measured and trimmed from one of our spar blanks later today. The shop will be open from 3-7 pm, so come on out and lend a hand.


All Monomoy crew for Conquer the Chesapeake have been notified. Due to privacy concerns, we are not posting the names online. Stand by for more information about event preparation later this week.

That's all for now!