A decision to stay

SIrocco at sunset in Oriental harbor
SIrocco at sunset in Oriental harbor

Well, I have thought for a few long weeks about what to do with the rest of this winter season and came to the conclusion that there isn’t a lot of winter left, so I may as well stay here in Oriental in order to get an early start on work that I want to do on the boat before next summer’s sailing season.  Just putting my current plan down in writing makes me wonder about actually following through with it, though!  The last few times that I have told anyone about what my plans were I have had to change them.  I just think at this point that it makes more sense to tough out the remaining weeks of winter weather in place rather than sailing.

Just because I am staying in this area doesn’t mean that I won’t be moving at all.  I will get out sailing when I have free time and when the weather is nice on days like today, or whenever else the mood strikes me to get out of the harbor.  I don’t want weeds on the bottom to grow too thick, after all.

Today was just the kind of weather that makes me glad that I am living on my very own sailboat.  The temperature reached about 65 degrees, the sun was shining brightly, and there was a gentle breeze stirring the surface of the Neuse River.  I decided to head in to the town dock to see if I could entice anyone out onto Sirocco with me for a few hours.  I thought that this would be the perfect time to go looking for unsuspecting crew, as the Bean was crowded, and there were many people out shopping at the farmer’s market.

Well, despite the crowds and the perfect weather I had a difficult time finding anyone who wanted to go for a sail!  I eventually ended up with just one other person on board for our little jaunt on the river.  Luckily, that person was Keith Smith, one of the energetic people behind the website towndock.net.  He and I had plenty to talk about as we enjoyed one of the most pleasant January days that I can remember.

We backed away from the dock under power and then set the sails once clear, but while still in the harbor. I stopped the engine as we passed the Oriental Yacht Club, as there was just enough breeze to keep Sirocco moving at about 1 knot.  There were a few tacks to be made to climb to windward down the channel, so that kept the crew busy walking the jib through between the inner and outer forestays, as there was not enough wind to blow it through.  Sirocco made steady progress in this light air despite her 17,000 lbs and slightly scummy bottom.  The wind was blowing at all of about 1-3 knots–not enough for exciting sailing, but perfect for making the galley an easy place to work!  I served up a couple of fried-egg-and-tomato sandwiches and they quickly found their place in the crew’s bellies.  The wind petered out completely leaving the Neuse River to become glassy and mirror-calm.

Sirocco at the town dock in Oriental, NC
Sirocco at the town dock in Oriental, NC

The breeze came up again just as we finished our sandwiches.  It didn’t come up with any great force, mind you, but it was enough to blow us gently back to the dock while we enjoyed a cup of tea.  Since a fair breeze was blowing, I decided to sail all the way in to the town dock–to a few cheers from onlookers who were watching the show from the front porch of The Bean, the local coffee house which is directly across the street from the town dock.  I had furled the sails several boatlengths away from the dock and let Sirocco glide in gently on her own momentum, so a couple of bystanders who had not immediately understood what had just happened commented, “I thought you were going to sail all the way in!”  It took a moment to explain that that was exactly what had been done.

It is now almost 11 pm and I still want to move the boat back out to the anchorage before I go to sleep so that the town dock is empty for whoever may want to use it in the morning.  Time to get underway again…

Sirocco's dinghy
Sirocco's dinghy moored on a calm evening. It's back to rowing for me!

Happy sojourn

New Year's Regatta
Sailing upwind in the New Year's Regatta

Well, here I am still in Oriental several weeks after arriving.

I always run into such an interesting mix of people here that I have a difficult time tearing myself away.  It is easy to find one excuse after another to stay–bad weather; some little thing that needs fixing; provisioning; an upcoming event; weather again…  I would have been foolish to have headed out into the southwesterly gales that we experienced soon after I arrived here, but since then I could have certainly made some progress south in between fronts.  Instead, Oriental drew me in.

Sirocco and Tally Ho!
Sirocco (right) and Tally Ho! at anchor in Oriental

One of the most interesting things to happen in the past couple of weeks was the arrival of the original Tally Ho!, which is the boat that William Atkin designed as an evolution of the thinking that went into Ben Bow, which is the design to which Sirocco is built.  The trio of designs that began with Fore An’ Aft is featured in the book “Of Yachts and Men”, by William Atkin.  These are some of my favorite cruising yacht designs!  It was wonderful to have two boats from this series in the same harbor at the same time.  All three of the designs share many of the same characteristics–short overhangs; long keels; and relatively heavy displacement.  Ben Bow is the lightest of the three and has the finest waterline and is described as a “light displacement” boat by Atkin, but at 17,000 lbs for a 28′ boat is pretty heavy by modern standards.  I could go on about the subtle differences between the three boats, but one who is interested could study them on the Atkin design website at:  http://www.atkinboatplans.com/Sail/ForeAnAft.html http://www.atkinboatplans.com/Sail/BenBow.html http://www.atkinboatplans.com/Sail/TallyHo.html

New Year's Regatta- motoring to the start
Motoring to the start of the "Better than Football" regatta

Sirocco raced in Oriental’s “Better Than Football” New Year’s Day regatta this year.  The event attracted over 60 boats out onto the Neuse River on a beautiful winter’s day that didn’t feel at all wintry.  I had onboard as crew Christian, who was familiar with Sirocco from his time onboard during the delivery to Oriental from Marathon, FL, in July.

The race started out in almost flat-calm conditions.  It was warm enough for me to be comfortable in just a long-sleeved t-shirt as we sailed slowly up and down the starting line, positioning Sirocco for a boat-end start on starboard.  Actually, we started at the green #1 end, which is where the committee boat would have been.  The pin end of the line was marked by a large inflatable football.  I had string of assorted flags flying from the spinnaker halyard to help keep the mood light and festive.

Soon after the 1200 starting signal the wind began to pick up.  The flags were soon lowered as I began to feel more competitive.  I wanted Sirocco to make a good showing against all of the modern boats that were beginning to spread out across the river.  The first mark was upwind, so I trimmed the sails for a closehauled course and coached Christian on how to keep a good course for maximum upwind speed.  Sirocco heeled over and trucked upwind at 5 knots.  As we approached halfway to the first mark I tacked away to clear our air because some larger boats were to windward of us.  Christian thought that we were bringing up the rear of the fleet, but after another tack back towards the turning mark it was apparent that we were solidly in the middle of the pack and holding off some much larger modern boats.

Sirocco silhouette sailing upwind New Year's regatta
Sirocco silhouetted sailing upwind New Year's regatta

The wind continued to increase and whitecaps were now dotting the surface of the recently mirror-faced river.  I thought about reefing the main to ease the weather helm and heeling, but we only had another mile to go to reach the mark where we could turn downwind and would want all of the sail up again.  We held on to all of our sail and the leeward rail dipped below the surface of the river as Sirocco sailed upwind at about 5.5 knots, which is as fast as she ever goes upwind.

After rounding the windward mark I was grateful to ease the sails out and let Sirocco come back upright.  I set the whisker pole to windward and we sailed towards the next mark wing-and-wing, with the mainsail out to one side of the boat, and the jib out to the other.  We passed a couple of boats on the run and didn’t lose any even to some 40-footers who had rounded the windward mark after us.  Not everyone bothered to set whisker poles, and only the boats at the very front of the fleet were using spinnakers.

The final leg of the race was a close reach and even though the wind was gusting over 20 knots I kept all sail set.  Sirocco creamed along at over 6.5 knots, overhauling another couple of boats in the last couple of miles and giving us a solid mid-fleet finish.  Had the wind come up sooner we probably could have finished in the top 1/3…  Not to worry, as all have equal chance to place at the top of the board in this race–the winners are drawn by lottery!  I think this is a great idea for a fun race.

We sailed back into the harbor and anchored.  After tidying up the boat we joined the party at M&M’s for the post-race gm and awards ceremony.

There have been a lot of boats passing through late in the season, encouraged by the relatively warm winter weather that we have been experiencing.  Amongst these have been a couple of boats with people close to my own age.  It has been fun having some younger folks around to chat with and go out with.

My plans are anything but firm for leaving here, but I am starting to get restless and ready to head a bit farther south.  The next good weather should be here in a couple of days…