Category Archives: Featured

A cruising sailor’s creed

When I was 19 I spent a year living on a remote island in the Marshall Islands. During my time there I worked alongside the islanders, my neighbors and my hosts. I learned how to harvest coconut meat – their sole source of income – ripping open blisters on my tender palms as I ripped the tough coconut husk from the shell on a sharpened steel spike driven firmly into the ground. I taught their children in a thatched hut with a coral rock floor. When it rained heavily and the wind drove the rain in sideways under the thatched roof, I moved my students to the opposite side of the hut and kept right on teaching. I sat on woven grass mats in my hosts’ homes, playing cards or talking by lantern light late into the night about their past, their island, their adventures, their dreams. I delivered my condolences and the traditional bar of soap to a grieving family and paid my respects to the lifeless body, covered by a clean, white sheet, motionless atop a woven mat, hands folded peacefully across her chest. I attended yokwe parties and ate (sometimes I didn’t know what) whatever was put before me. Loathe to leave, I delayed my departure date repeatedly, radioing the secretary on the big island to say “one more week, one more week.” I wept when I said goodbye. I promised never to forget my island friends.


As a kid I had always loved fish and the water, so it was natural that I got hooked on snorkeling and spearfishing while I was on Woja.  Almost every day after I’d finished my work, I’d don my bathing suit, grab my mask and spear, and head to the water. I’d bring my fish to Elie, my next-door neighbor, and ask him which ones were edible and which weren’t. Elie taught me how to prepare the fish, and I would eat supper with him and his family. Elie was grateful for the fresh fish; his boys no longer valued the tradition of harvesting their own food from the sea, canned and processed foods proving too convenient. I was pleased that my sport was useful – if not entirely necessary – and part of his culture’s tradition.

Now I’m a high school teacher and a Lake Michigan sailor. I don’t teach in a thatched hut, I don’t husk coconuts, and I don’t spearfish. I satisfy my longing for adventure with summer sailing on Lake Michigan and camping trips to the Upper Peninsula – as if being dad to two energetic and imaginative young boys isn’t adventure enough.

When winter approaches, which is right about this time of year, I enjoy reading sailing blogs. Generally the photos of far-off exotic places bring me a little warmth during the cold Michigan winter. Lately, however, the photos have left me feeling a little…cold. Spearfishing, it seems, has become a popular sport among cruising sailors – at least those whose blogs I follow. Many of their blogs feature photos of stunning and enormous dead fish – and delectable recipes. I understand the allure – trust me, I do – but I’m troubled.

When I was into backpacking there was a motto: “Take only pictures; Leave only footprints.” A few years later, when I was obsessed with my classic ’74 Land Cruiser and off-roading, the motto was “Tread Lightly.” I’m beginning to think that it’s time cruising sailors come up with a similar creed.

I’m not a militant conservationist, but my time in the islands taught me – among many, many other things – to respect the local people and their resources. The photos and videos of sailors – transients, guests, interlopers, in some cases – harvesting far more fish for just themselves than I ever caught for my adopted Marshallese family troubles me, leaves me cold. I understand the allure, but I also understand the importance of treading lightly, respecting the native people, and leaving as little evidence of your presence as possible. Perhaps sailors need to add to their extensive tradition of aphorisms, proverbs, and sayings a new phrase: “Catch only the wind; Make nary a wake.”

Mac Race video compilation

Readers of the blog might recall that I raced in the Chicago-Mac Race this summer. Here’s a brief video I put together for the skipper and crew of Elixir, the boat I crewed aboard.

Some sailing

I stole away for a few hours the other evening to do a little solo sailing, and Jake and I headed out last night for an hour or so before an approaching storm chased us back to harbor. Life is good – although the season is getting short.

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U.P. Tradition (Warning: No sailing content)

We lived in Michigan for about 15 years before we discovered the beauty of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula three years ago. Since that discovery, we’ve made it a summer tradition to spend at least a week camping, kayaking, fishing, and exploring the beautiful wilds of northern Michigan.

While previous years emphasized the hiking and camping, this year we decided to focus on the fishing. (Read about our two prior trips to the UP). I’d purchased fly fishing equipment for Carrie and the boys last winter – including waders for all of us and vests for the boys. Primarily we were after trout, but any fish on a fly rod is a good fish.

Our first stop on our way north was the fly shop at Gates Au Sable Lodge, where we picked up a few flies and an excellent book about fly fishing Michigan. Last summer, with the acquisition of a pop up trailer, we began the tradition of collecting bumper stickers, so we added a trout sticker to the pop up before leaving Gates and heading north across the Mighty Mac.


First night in Grayling.


Saying good morning to the Au Sable River.


Josh gets the honor of placing the first sticker.


Hopefully they’ll humor me for a few more years!


Crossing the Mighty Mackinac Bridge on a beautiful day.

We’d planned to camp at a site we found last summer, but we arrived late in the afternoon and drove from campground to campground before finally finding a (semi) vacant site six miles down a dirt road. I say a “semi-vacant” site because, although the site was empty, there was a reservation tag attached to the site post, indicating that someone had paid their fees and “set up” camp. It was the absence of ANY gear or sign of occupation that prompted me to ignore the tag, set up camp, and see what happened. Admittedly, Carrie and I were a bit apprehensive, hoping that 1) no one would show up to claim the site (on a motorcycle or some self-contained camper), and 2) if they did, they would be nice and not like Sea Bass on Dumb and Dumber. Afternoon turned into evening before we heard vehicles coming down the road toward the camp. Two scruffy looking dudes in a pickup pulled up in front of our site and gave me a weird look. I approached the truck and was relieved to find that they were very polite and had accidentally put their tag on the wrong post – they were occupying sites 1 and 2, but had mistakenly placed their tags on 2 and 3. Phew! Only after I knew the site was ours could I really relax and enjoy the up north beauty.


Tough view to beat.


Finally cooked supper when we were assured the site was ours.


Fishing, naturally, followed supper!


Love this place.


Two loons and their haunting cries made this place even more beautiful.

We spent a day simply lounging around the site, kayaking, fishing, relaxing in the hammock, and cooking over the campfire – s’mores, too, of course! Jake and Josh waded along the shore and caught a fair number of pumpkinseeds, bluegill, and the occasional perch and bass.

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After a lazy day at camp, we decided we needed to head to Pictured Rocks and do some hiking, so we loaded in the car and headed to Chapel Rock. The trail out to Chapel Rock is an easy hike that passes Chapel Falls on the way to Lake Superior. Just above the falls there’s a little spot in the creek that I fished last year. I had to try my luck there again, and fortunately Carrie and the boys humored me. Like last year, I pulled a little brook trout out of a loggy area.


Such a beautiful hike to Chapel Rock.


Chapel Falls


Dreaming about trout!


Chapel Rock and Lake Superior


Carrie’s first time in Lake Superior!


Another tradition: Picture in Lake Superior with my boys.


A blurry image of my (little) brookie.


Section of the river where the brook trout was hiding.


Happy hikers. Life doesn’t get much better than this!

Since we hadn’t made any real itinerary, we made up each day as it came. Following a lazy breakfast, we headed back out to do some more hiking/sightseeing. We particularly wanted to visit a few places that we’d missed during our earlier trips, so we stopped by Miners Falls and Castle, and a silly little place called Horeshoe Falls where you can feed trout in a pond.

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My cool guidebook to fly fishing Michigan offered some tantalizing information about places elsewhere in the UP, and, eager to do more fishing, we broke camp and headed east toward Hemingway’s Two-Hearted River (yeah, I know Hemingway was really describing the Fox River, but this sounded like better fishing). After hours on washboard dirt roads, we arrived at a campground right on the bank of the Two-Hearted River. What I had hoped would be a pleasantly quiet and remote campground turned out to be occupied by several large RVs and their raucous, disrespectful, foul-mouthed owners, a fact we didn’t learn until evening when they all returned from canoeing and began speaking in ways that prompted Josh to call our remote piece of paradise an “R-rated campground.”

Eager to get away from the yahoos, we donned our fishing gear and headed for the river where it was peaceful, natural, and a whole lot more Hemingway-esque, I thought. The river is gorgeous and gave us plenty of time to relax and concentrate on our fishing. Jake and I hooked fish, but in both cases they broke our leader. It wasn’t until our second day on the river that I finally landed a pretty little rainbow. And it was on the morning of our second day, when the local-yokels broke camp and headed back to their cave, that we enjoyed the site’s true beauty, serenity, and a refreshing, cleansing dip in the river.

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The Two-Hearted River, despite the local “wildlife,” was good to us (I just hope the boys forget some of the language they learned that day), but we (well, Carrie was) were ready to try fly fishing the wide-open waters of the Au Sable River, so we loaded up and headed south, hitting one of our favorites, Tahquamenon Falls, on our way out before crossing the Mackinac Bridge.

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It’s always tough to say goodbye to the beauty up north.


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Grayling has plenty of her own beauty too, however, and gave us a proper welcome our first evening.

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The boys spent the evening learning how to shoot their newly-acquired slingshots – something every boy must have/do.

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The following morning, we stopped by Gates Fly Lodge again to get a little local information about fishing spots (and a few more flies!) and headed out to some fishing on the South Branch of the Au Sable.  This portion of the river is wide and easily waded, perfect for beginning and little fly fishers. I was hopeful that Carrie and the boys would experience the thrill of catching their first trout. As it turned out, Carrie and Jake got lucky, but poor Josh struck out. Poor little guy.


In search of trout.


Jake’s first first.


Jake’s second fish – slightly larger.


Carrie giving Josh a hand.


Lunch break.


Cute little photo bomber.


Carrie’s first trout!


My new 4wt fiberglass rod.


Jake and the scenic Au Sable.


My one and only brook trout.


Drying out on the morning of our departure.

We stopped by Cabela’s on our way home and stocked up on a few more flies and some great gear. Once again, the memories just keep getting sweeter. What a blessing to be able to do so much with the people I love SO much. Until next summer, Michigan.


Racing the Chicago-Mac

Well, I checked an item off my bucket list: I sailed the Chicago-Mackinac Race.

Elixir – a Catalina 400 – and her crew finished next to last in her section and 122nd overall (out of 334 boats). Not a stellar finish, but not too bad for a new skipper, boat, and crew – and a boat that underwent major repairs for weeks before the start of the race, which not only significantly limited practice time but threatened to keep the boat out of the race altogether.

We made the trip in 2 days, 9 hours, and 43 minutes (uncorrected), averaging 123nm/day. Winds were generally southerly, averaging about 10 knots. We saw everything from flat calm to a sustained 20-25kts and moderate seas. Both boat and crew did well with no significant complications (although yours truly managed to fall butt first through the forward hatch…lame). We ghosted under the Mackinac Bridge Monday evening in light air and slowly worked our way to the finish line at less than 2 kts with about 20 other boats.


The Elixir crew at the awards ceremony Tuesday afternoon. From left to right: Kurt, Me, Tim, Ron (captain), Scott, Bob. Although we didn’t receive an award, a safe trip with a good group of guys was rewarding enough – and I think most of us learned a lot on this trip, which certainly made it worthwhile.

Under the bridge!

Under the bridge!

Ron, Tim, and I delivered the boat to Chicago prior to the race late Wednesday evening in an attempt to beat some weather forecast to arrive Thursday morning. As luck would have it, I had come down with a nasty cold the previous weekend and made it worse by putting in 12-hour days rebuilding our front porch. Admittedly, I wasn’t too keen on pulling an all-nighter or heading over to Chicago so early. We departed St. Joseph under cloudy skies at 2155 and motored for Chicago in flat seas and light wind. Ron and Tim were kind enough to let me go below and rest. I turned in about 0100 and slept till 0500. When I awoke, we were about 5nm off of Chicago, the wind northerly about 10-15kts, a light rain falling. We motored past the outer light and rafted up on Tsunami, a Swan 42 tied up on the sea wall just north of the Chicago Yacht Club.

We spent most of Thursday scrubbing the deck, stowing and organizing gear, and taking care of last-minute items as a steady stream of boats arrived and rafted up in the harbor.


Early morning in Chicago, the day of our arrival.

Ron had originally intended that Elixir would have her mandatory pre-race inspection weeks earlier as part of the Queens Cup race, but an earlier night race to South Haven exposed a serious defect in the boat when the bilge suddenly starting fill with water. Ron returned to St. Joseph, had the boat hauled, and discovered that the aft end of the keel was separating from the hull. I’m not sure of the whole story, but it seems that  Elixir had sustained serious damage during prior ownership and been poorly repaired, leaving a number of voids in the keel stub and loads of fairing filler that provided no structural integrity. The severity of the damage suggested that Elixir and crew might be out of the race; however, thanks to Ron’s determination and a fast repair, Elixir was in Chicago on Thursday and passed her inspection with flying colors.


Inspection time.


Running up new sails to check fit and sheeting angles.



The forecast for race day wasn’t looking too promising: light winds out of the south about 5kts. As we headed out of the harbor and approached the starting area, the wind filled in nicely at about 8kts. We popped up the asymmetrical, cruised across the start line, and began a long diagonal toward Point Betsie on the east side of the lake. The wind continued nicely out of the south at 10kts for most of the day, falling off around dusk and then picking up after sunset. The weather turned out to be great. The lake was flat, and the wind held steady at 10-13kts out of the south, swinging SE and SW at times. We sailed just west of the rhumbline all the way to Point Betsie. At one point, we were in 6th position in our section, but we were becalmed on Sunday night and watched helplessly as lighter boats with more extensive sail inventories ghosted past us.


Heading to the starting area.


Tim and Scott




Mr. Foredeck Tim.


And…we’re racing!


End of the first day.


Asymmetrical pulling nicely.

By Sunday night the wind filled in and we sailed past Point Betsie and entered the Manitous with a looming thunderstorm over Wisconsin flashing lightning and threatening to overtake us. The wind backed, coming forward of the beam, forcing us to douse the asymmetrical and pop up a gennaker. As we rounded the point at Sleeping Bear Dunes, the wind piped up and we decided to douse the gennaker and fly under main and genoa. It was at this point that the sock jammed and we spent a few interesting minutes trying to sort out how best to drop the sail while Elixir dipped her rail a time or two. Eventually we blew the tack line and hauled the gennaker in under the boom and down the companionway. The excitement over, we sailed on through the night, arriving at the North Manitou light just after sunrise. We continued the rest of the way north toward Grays Reef under main and genoa with the wind off the starboard quarter at 25kts. Elixir cruised right along for hours, touching 9.6kts at one point. Sadly, several other boats were able to fly spinnakers during that long downwind passage, allowing them to slowly work their way past Elixir.


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Although the wind was forecast to be light through the Straits of Mackinac, we had a steady 13kts on the beam once through Grays Reef Passage, allowing us to once again hoist the asymmetrical and make a steady 7.5kts toward the Mackinac bridge.

Just a few miles from the bridge the wind went light and came aft. We did our best to jibe our way toward the bridge, dodging the occasional lake freighter. Finally, accompanied by a few other boats, we ghosted under the Mackinac bridge.


On the west side of the bridge. Almost under.


We played leapfrog for a bit with this beautiful Offshore 36, Flying Buffalo.


Eventually the Offshore 36’s massive sail inventory gave them the edge.


Dozens of boats wait patiently to cross the finish line.

After 2 days, 9 hours, 43 minutes, we crossed the finish line at less than 2kts at 2144, fired up the diesel, and headed for our assigned dock. Inside the harbor, music from The Pink Pony thumped and pulsed over the water as racers celebrated their finish. The music made it impossible to hear anything aboard Elixir, but I went about readying dock lines and fenders in preparation for the raft up. As Elixir nosed down a narrow fairway and sailboats fell into line behind us, awaiting their chance to tie up, we heard someone on the dock yelling and flashing lights at us. Just audible over the Pink Pony music, “Elixir! Don’t dock here. Don’t dock here. Turn on your radio!” Ron got on the radio and learned from the harbormaster that he had heard the wrong slip assignment. After some close quarters maneuvering, we eased Elixir into open water and turned her bow toward her proper dock, finally rafting up around 2230. The crew enjoyed appropriate celebration and congratulations before calling it a night and falling into a well-earned sleep.


Rafting up in Mackinac on the Arnold Transit Company dock.

Tuesday morning Bob, Kurt, and I headed into town for breakfast and some sightseeing. It was my first time on the island (I’d sailed into the harbor a couple years ago). We spent the remaining time eating good food, napping, and hanging out on the boat. Racers are forced off the docks by 1000 Wednesday morning, so Ron, accompanied by his brother-in-law, Mark, left the raft up around 0800 and pointed Elixir’s bow toward Grays Reef and St. Joseph while the rest of us boarded a ferry for Mackinaw City and home.


Church on Mackinac.


Saying goodbye to Mackinac Island.


Back home with my boys!



What’s been happening?

Once Ariel was in the water, I had a few other tasks to complete. I rewired a secondary bilge pump that had packed it in over the winter due to faulty connections, and I wired quick connectors for the masthead instrument. Additionally, the cabin needed to be cleaned and organized.

Unrelated to Ariel, I wrapped up a mainsail project for an Ericson 29 and bent on Ariel’s new staysail. The new staysail needs a longer pendant at the head to get the tack closer to the drum, but otherwise it looks great. Perhaps I’ll make a main Ariel over winter so she’ll have a new suit of sails for 2016.

Pictures of the Ericson mainsail construction:

The press is of my own design, but it works perfectly – and for a lot less money than one sold specifically for the purpose. I installed six Rutgerson Super Rings without issue.


This mainsail has three rows of reef points, so there are eight hefty patch assemblies, including the tack and clew.

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Ariel’s new staysail. I actually constructed this staysail last season, but for one reason or another never got it bent on. It is constructed of 8oz Dacron since it is our heavy-weather sail once Ariel is double reefed on the main. As you can see in the picture, the tack is too far away from the drum – not that it really matters, it’s purely aesthetic. (If Ariel were going to sea, I’d actually prefer the tack to be as high as it is so that the sail wouldn’t be as likely to catch water.) If I have the energy, I’ll bring the sail home and sew a longer pendant.



Rigging Complete

Updating the rig was uneventful. I took measurements of the existing wires and created the new shrouds/stays using Sta-Lok fittings and Hayn bronze turnbuckles. Assembly was easy and the project took about two days to complete. As anticipated, the most challenging part of the process was running the new wire through the two furling foils and then attaching the fittings in a rather confined space. Dealing with the foil wires probably took as much time as assembling the other nine. In the end, everything went together just fine.

I’d include my own directions/recommendations for rigging Sta-Loks, but Rich Abato, another CD36’er, details the process on his website in clear, easy-to-follow directions: SV Mahalo Rigging Page. I will emphasize Rich’s suggestion of using a high-tension hacksaw and a good blade – as opposed to the Ace or hardware store variety. I bought a Lenox high-tension hacksaw, equipped with a 24tpi blade. It worked marvelously, cutting quickly and smoothly each time. In all, the blade made at least 24 separate cuts and was still cutting quickly and cleanly at the end.

Earlier I had posted about wire sizes and beefing up the rig. I decided to keep the original wire size. I’ve heard that a lot of people like to go up a size when re-rigging, but I didn’t see the point. The CD36 spar section is stout, it’s a well-stayed low-aspect rig with good geometry, and the original wire sizes worked for 35 years. I saved money by sticking with the original wire size, as well as weight aloft.


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Launch and prep

Ariel splashed Thursday, June 4, after a couple of busy days cleaning, polishing, waxing, painting, and taking care of other pre-launch items. The boys pitched in in a big way this year – working diligently and carefully – scrubbing and cleaning decks, and painting most of the bottom by themselves.

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It wasn’t all work, however. We managed to include the REALLY important to-do’s like enjoying our time together…

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And relaxing after an exhausting day’s work…



And then it was launch day!


A few items that I took care of before Ariel went in: service all of the seacocks, replace the shaft stuffing, and polish and wax the hull. And my does she get her shine on when the hull is polished and waxed:


Box of goodies

Got a box of bronze and stainless goodies yesterday – 74 lbs and $2000! Time to get the re-rigging underway.


Time to replace standing rigging

Ariel rolled off the Cape Dory production line in 1979. As far as we know, her standing rigging is original. Even though she’s a freshwater boat and spends half of her life on the hard each year, her rigging – which is in great shape for its age – is now 36 years old. Most riggers out there will probably tell you that 10-15 years in a saltwater environment means it’s time to replace. Take into consideration life as a freshwater boat, and 20-25  might be pushing it. Since we’re not eager to push our luck anymore than we have, Ariel’s getting all new standing rigging, including bronze Hayn turnbuckles.

I know a lot of boat owners decide to go up one wire size when re-rigging because 316 wire is a tad weaker than 304, but I decided to keep the wire sizes the same – 9/32″ and 1/4″ – primarily because I already had on-hand enough Sta-Lok mechanical fittings to handle the cap shrouds, backstay, and headstay. (Sadly, I have a stack of 5/16″ fittings, but the pin sizes are 5/8″ instead of the necessary 1/2″).

Based upon recommendations within the CD community, I ordered wire and fittings through Rigging Only out of Fairhaven, MA. Rather than spend a lot of extra money for Sta-Loks all around, I ordered swaged toggle fittings for the upper ends of the intermediates and lower shrouds. The lower ends will be Sta-Lok threaded studs attached to new bronze turnbuckles. Ordering enough Sta-Loks for all the wire would have increased the cost more than a couple hundred dollars, too much of a stretch for an already-stretched budget.

For anyone considering re-rigging, here’s a list of parts and cost:

ArielRiggingIntermediates ArielRiggingLowerShrouds ArielRiggingLowerStaysail ArielRiggingMasthead

Since no post is complete without a picture, here’s one of the mast ready to be pulled last fall.


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