I have finally had the time to do a bit of video editing and just put up a new short film of Idle Queen sailing on a beautiful afternoon on Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island.
If you enjoy the videos, please subscribe to the Setforsea YouTube channel. The quality of the recent videos is much better than the older ones thanks to a better camera and the editor finally learning a few things about proper workflow. There is still plenty of room for improvement–something to look forward to! Your comments are welcome here or on the YouTube channel. Thanks.
You can also view the video directly on YouTube in a new window by following this link.
Well, we made it up to the Cape safely. When I last left off, we were just getting ready to head out from Hampton, VA. We were assured of a couple of days of good weather, but after that, there was a strong front forecast to push through the northern waters of our journey, bringing up to two days of contrary winds and unsettled weather.
So, here’s the short version of our travels from the time we left Hampton, VA– After leaving the anchorage across from the public pier, we motorsailed in light, but favorable conditions up to New York harbor, where we waited out two days of nasty weather before heading through Long Island Sound. After motoring through the East River, we grabbed a free town mooring for the night in Port Washington; filled up on overpriced diesel fuel; met some friendly and interesting people; and raised a few eyebrows sailing through the mooring area. We headed out with a fair tide early the next morning and sailed overnight to Newport, RI, where we dropped the hook and soaked up a little of the “sailing town” atmosphere (or was that just fog?).
The next morning, we pushed up to an anchorage near Bristol; and the following day made our appointment to pick up some parts for our Dyer Midget from the factory in Warren, RI. It was a memorable experience to be able to sail right up to the factory; pick up their guest mooring; and dinghy to their dock to get our parts. We got a tour of the manufacturing floor and many tips for how to put our dinghy back together properly–I would highly recommend a Dyer for the great support alone. They freely gave us several hours of their time and answered all of my many questions even though the Dyer that I own is probably 40 years old and was bought at a yard sale.
After loading our parts onto the already overloaded Idle Queen, we dropped the mooring and pushed against the tide for a few miles to overnight in the roomy anchorage in Bristol, RI. The weather was dreary, so we didn’t really feel like going any farther. The following day was lovely, though, so we sailed all day and pushed right past Newport to go directly to Monument Beach, MA; taking advantage of the typical Buzzard’s Bay southwest wind to hurry the last half of the passage along.
Now, Idle Queen is swinging patiently at a mooring while we take care of unloading some of the extra cargo we had carried north; take some time to visit the dentist (Unplanned. Ouch.); repair the “deflatable” Zodiac; rebuild the Dyer dinghy; and visit the area a bit.
Idle Queen will shortly be outbound from Hampton, VA, northbound to… as far as we can before the weather closes out on us. We are aiming for Rhode Island, but will stop in to New York harbor if we don’t make good time.
Planning on writing an update soon with pictures from the Dismal Swamp Canal. I also have some great video from that part of the trip, but haven’t had time to edit and format it yet. Looking forward to getting that up soon!
Sunday, August 4, Idle Queen finally sailed out of Oriental’s harbor. And I do mean “sailed”. The last errand to run in Oriental was to bring the boat in to the fuel dock to top off all of our tanks before heading out. I was planning to sail off from the dock, but a power boat came in just as we were finishing with fueling up, so I elected to motor out instead of keeping him waiting. Once clear of the dock, though, we put up sail and slowly gathered speed as we left the inner harbor.
The wind was blowing from the north, and turning to the northeast. This meant that the Neuse River was smooth as we sailed along a mile from shore. Unfortunately, this also meant that the wind would be against us once we turned the corner to head into Pamlico Sound. I had wanted to head up the sound to visit Manteo on the way north, but the wind stayed northeast, which would have been on the nose, making the decision to motor north on the ICW route an easy one. I have discovered that ol’ Idle Queen is not terribly fond of going to weather. We anchored for a day to try to invent storage solutions for a few troublesome pieces of gear, and get the depthsounder working.
Although I generally dread hours of motoring, I do enjoy the canals for their close views of the landscape. Smooth waters are a bonus. We still set sail at every opportunity and didn’t transit any of the legs between Oriental and Elizabeth City entirely under power. That didn’t do much for our speed, though. We met a fellow sailor in Elizabeth City on a 20′ Pacific Seacraft “Flicka” who was amazed that, #1- we were sailing in the cuts; and, #2- he was pulling away from us. Well, the wind isn’t all that consistent when surrounded by all those trees, but a fair breeze is a fair breeze.
There was plenty of wildlife to hold our interest and take our minds off the heat as we motored and sailed north to anchor up past Belhaven. The cuts were well-populated with birds, turtles, dragonflies, and loads of butterflies. I also enjoy looking at the trees along the banks of the canals. It is amazing to look at the size of some of the stumps that are all that remain of old cypress and juniper trees from long ago–those stumps are huge. The trees growing along the cuts today are just babies in comparison with the monsters that were cut down to leave stumps of six feet and more in diameter.
We sailed past Belhaven. Even though the promise of a free city dock was slightly tempting, we had a good breeze and made 10 more miles before anchoring in the dark just outside of the channel.
The next day, we arose early to start before the day heated up. Before leaving, I checked the engine over and pulled the zinc to have a look. It was not much more than mush. Hmm… Well past time to change it. I pulled a new pencil zinc from my stock only to discover that it was much too long and had to cut it down. I thought I had bought a half-dozen zincs of the correct size, but it was obvious that I hadn’t. At least I had something that would work. A few frustrating minutes with a hacksaw and some trial-and-error fitting had a new zinc anode in the engine. I tightened the alternator belt as well and we were soon underway. We made it a very long day, as the wind turned fair while we were in the canal. We sailed up the Alligator River, through the bridge, across Albermarle Sound, and up the Pasquotank River to anchor just a mile from the downtown waterfront of Elizabeth City. It was 0200 before we had the anchor down that morning.
Arising before the wind came up the next day, we motored down to the free city docks and backed Idle Queen in to one of the slips. We received a most friendly welcome from the assistant harbormaster and a couple of interested bystanders.
Our stay in Elizabeth City was delightful. We arrived only planning to stay for a day, but ended up staying for three. How could we leave, what with invitations to drive down to Edenton and Rocky Hock; head out to a mud boggin’ competition in Currituck; and let’s not forget the awesome farmer’s market on Saturday morning… Besides the personal connections, there are great services for boaters: free city docks; strong wifi; access to water; free loaner bikes; and access to nearby toilets. All of this is right in a beautifully maintained waterfront park just a short walk from restaurants, art galleries, and more. We made wonderful friends and memories during our brief stay in Elizabeth City and look forward to visiting again soon.
The past few weeks seem a blur, but the result of all the long days that have been put in is that Idle Queen is ready enough to start her voyage north.
In the past two months a lot was accomplished. First, Idle Queen was stripped bare of anything easily removable, scrubbed inside and out with vinegar and then bleach to cut down on the musty smell of long-term storage. We removed the disintegrating headliner that was falling down, insulation that was crumbling, and about 40 pounds of dirt from the bilges. Much of the interior was painted. New cushions were cut and covered with covers made from bed sheets. Personal effects were loaded aboard. Food was stowed. Gear was put aboard until there was no more room, and then more gear was loaded.
The boat is cluttered with gear that I hope to sell or trade. Mostly, it is things that I accumulated in trade for doing project work for other boaters. For the past year, I have had a “no charge” policy when doing work for others. Some people thanked me, some gave me money anyway, and some gave me gear. I have replaced many worn-out pieces of gear aboard Idle Queen, but still have much to get rid of. I am heading north with three steering-gears aboard, for instance.
I will be sure to post more soon, but for now, it is time to get going…
I frequently question my decision to move to the larger Idle Queen from my last boat, Sirocco. After all, I am still very much enamored of Sirocco, and I have long been a proponent of smaller boats.
Not many people would consider Sirocco a complicated boat in her present configuration. She has pressure fresh water and refrigeration, sure, but her windlass is manual and her compliment of electronics is adequate but simple. Even so, she is more complicated than my “new” boat, Idle Queen, which has only a bare minimum of modern fittings aboard. Idle Queen is missing many of the standard items found on modern sailboats, like roller furling, a winch for each jib sheet, and more. She has only two seacocks below the waterline. She is lightly powered, with her engine providing just over 1 horsepower for each ton of displacement. The cabin sole is painted plywood instead of teak and holly. Much of her paint comes from the hardware store. These details aren’t very “yachty”, but they help offset the added expense of having a physically larger boat when it comes to maintaining and operating her.
I explained why I am moving to a larger boat in a previous post (see here). The additional room aboard the larger boat will allow me to carry everything I need for more expended trips away from yachting centers. Wonderful. The big challenge, though, is that my budget for maintaining this boat is no larger than what I had before. If anything, it is smaller because of the money that I spent this winter having a car in this area. Cars will keep you poor. I plan to make up the difference by not complicating Idle Queen one bit more than necessary.
So, specifically, how am I planning on closing the budget gap? For starters, I am going to live with the unique interior of Idle Queen as she is for a while. Harry Heckel Jr., the original owner, built a custom arrangement down below that is far from the traditional small sailboat layout. One of the first things that I wanted to do with Idle Queen was to change the layout to one with parallel settees in the main saloon instead of the dinette that is currently onboard. I can eliminate a huge expense and time-sink by just keeping the arrangement the same for now. I’ll be losing some storage space, but the current arrangement has worked for two circumnavigations so far.
The tanks on Idle Queen almost all need replacing. The two exceptions are a little 10-gallon fuel tank, and one polyethylene water tank. The current plan is to make up the difference with portable tankage. For water, I will carry as many 3-4 liter water bottles as I need. I have been doing this for quite some time now, beginning when I discovered that the fiberglass water tank on my Contessa 26 was unusable for potable water. I bought 20 gallons of drinking water in bottles at a cost of about $20, and have had 20 gallons of cleanable, portable, re-usable water tankage ever since. I used the same bottles on Sirocco to supplement the tankage onboard, and I see no reason to abandon the system now. I can empty the bottles into the small gravity tank that supplies the galley faucet to produce running water. On the diesel tankage side, the little diesel engine on Idle Queen will run for about 30-40 hours on the currently usable 10-gallon tank. I plan to build secure below-decks storage for an additional 20 gallons of diesel tankage in the form of 5-gallon jerry cans. If I need more tankage, I can always expand the storage scheme.
For lighting, I know that there are many sailors who, in the name of simplicity, have stayed with kerosene lanterns. Some have even kept their boats free of any installed electrical system. My current plan is not quite as low-tech. LED lighting has finally come down enough in cost for me to decide to use LED lights for the main cabin lighting solution aboard Idle Queen. There will be a minimum of wiring involved, and it will all be accessible. I will keep the current fluorescent fixtures until they cease to function before spending money on new fixtures, and I will probably end up assembling my own lighting fixtures rather than spending on the ridiculously overpriced marine lights currently available. A few years ago, I compared the cost of changing Sirocco over to all LED lighting versus just buying enough solar panels to run the incandescent lights that she already had. It was much cheaper to just buy more solar generating capacity. Now the cost of LEDs have come down enough to make them an attractive option. I already have 50 watts of solar panels on Idle Queen. My goal is to keep my daily consumption under what they can supply. I will keep a couple of kerosene lanterns around just in case lightning takes out the electrical system… Backup systems are important.
There are a few other items that I will be going without that make it onto the “must have” list for many cruisers: items like refrigeration; roller furling; a bimini; an autopilot (IQ does have a windvane); and so forth. If I can pick those items up for little money along the way (or better yet–free!), then it’s not like I am opposed to having them. I just need to keep reminding myself that the most important things to take care of on the boat are keeping the hull sound and the running gear strong and functional. Almost everything else is just budget-eating, boat-cluttering stuff that can probably be lived without.
One of the things that I miss about my Contessa 26 is being able to easily reach over the side and put my hands in the water. I can reach the water from the deck of Idle Queen, but it is a bit of a stretch, and I have to put an uncomfortable amount of my body over the side of the boat, so I don’t do it. Instead, I use a bucket attached to a line to haul water to the deck of Idle Queen.
Besides making washing things over the side a little less convenient, there are other disadvantages to all that extra freeboard–like sluggish windward performance; more hassle getting out of the dinghy; and handling issues when the wind gets up. No matter how you look at it, anything that increases windage is a bad thing, and more freeboard increases windage in a big way. This has been known to designers for a long time, and is part of the reason why many old-school sailboats were so low to the water. When Sirocco had to ride out the remnants of hurricane Irene on an exposed mooring, she sat quietly despite the whipping gusts largely thanks to the fact that she sat so low in the water.
I have heard it said that higher-freeboard boats are drier, but that isn’t necessarily true, especially if you are interested in actually staying dry. Once the wind gets over about 20 knots, it will drive spray a long distance into the air–much higher than the deck on just about any small boat. There are other aspects of the hull design that make a bigger difference in how much spray gets thrown about, like the amount of flare; sharpness of entry; and whether there is a significant rubrail or not. Closehauled in 15-20 knots of wind, Idle Queen takes more spray across the deck than the much lower Sirocco. Dodgers, windscreens, or other shelters are more effective at providing a place on deck to stay out of wind-driven spray. People these days seem less interested in putting on their “oilies” and toughing it out…
It is amazing to me how just a foot of extra freeboard on similarly-sized boats like Sirocco and Idle Queen can make such a huge difference in how they handle and how they feel. The loads on dock lines and moorings are much higher on Idle Queen; windward performance is not nearly as good (though this has much to do with other differences in the hull shapes); and even the motion while seated on deck is less comfortable. That’s right–being higher in the boat amplifies the effects of motion. Try climbing the mast at sea if you really want to feel this effect. (Disclaimer: Only go aloft at sea if you can do so safely!)
A boat that is excessively low to the water will have the decks frequently washed over by waves, so there is definitely the potential to take the low-freeboard idea too far. My point is that once past a moderate amount of freeboard, the returns paid in dryness will diminish just as quickly as the negatives, like sailing around at anchor, will pile up.
Besides, boats that are low and lean just look sexier.
A year on the Contessa 26 was enough to convince me that I wanted a bit more boat. I was enjoying the minimalism, but the Contessa was a little too small for long-term living aboard, at least for me and all of the tools that I normally carry. I started casually looking around and found a William Atkin-designed “Ben Bow” named Sirocco. She was sturdy, reasonably roomy, and had a lean, low profile that I just couldn’t resist. She also had a full keel with a rather deep forefoot. This was the boat that finally sold me on full-keel boats.
At first I was a little apprehensive about how she would handle, but that fear was soon put to rest as I discovered how wonderfully predictable she was and what a joy to sail. True, she didn’t turn as tightly as a fin-keel boat, but the penalty in turning radius was not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Also, I had not anticipated how her full keel, outboard rudder, and low freeboard up forward would combine to eliminate the tendency that so many other boats have for their bow blow away from the wind in an instant when stopped. Docking in a crosswind was now a much more controlled evolution. The same with singlehanded anchoring. Unless it was blowing a gale, I had plenty of time to stroll up the wide side decks and release the anchor after reaching my desired spot without the boat taking off across the wind. Backing was also improved over the cutaway-keel design, with the long keel making it easier to keep the boat tracking straight when desired.
There were other benefits not related to handling at low speeds and close quarters that were pleasant surprises. Tracking when under sail at sea was superb, and I could balance the boat to sail herself in most conditions, but I had expected that to be true. One thing that I had not considered was how the deep bilges, outboard rudder, and near-vertical sternpost combined to put the propeller in a location where I could reach it from the dinghy. What luxury to be able to keep the prop clean without having to dive under the boat! I suspect that I may have also been able to unwrap a line from the relative comfort of the dinghy, but I never picked up a line in the prop in all the miles that I sailed in Sirocco, probably thanks to the protection offered by her keel. Finally, and probably only due in part to the design of her keel, Sirocco was one of the most comfortable boats that I have ever taken to sea. Even though I am normally somewhat prone to seasickness when I first put to sea, I was never once seasick aboard Sirocco. That comfortable motion was a tremendously endearing characteristic of hers, but I have to also give credit to her other design attributes, including short overhangs, moderately slack bilges, relatively heavy displacement, moderate beam, etc., as contributing factors in that department.
Now that I am moving up to another boat, I again chose a full-keel design in the Dreadnought 32, Idle Queen. I am looking forward to continuing to enjoy the benefits of being able to inspect and reach the prop from my dinghy; having a boat that tracks well in a variety of conditions; not worrying about picking up lines and weed on the rudder and propeller; and having the option to comfortably dry out on a grid or beach if I ever need to. The full keel design has much to recommend it when choosing an underbody for a cruising sailboat.
Over the years that I have been sailing, I have logged miles on a number of different craft from an International Sabot up to a steel schooner of about 200 gross tons. Most of my time has been in small, shoal-draft centerboard sailboats up to about 20 feet long; racing keelboat designs like the J-29; and the few cruising sailboats that I have owned over the years. I benefitted from spending time in a broad variety of different sailboats by getting a taste of how different types of boats perform in various conditions. This has given me the opportunity to compare the merits of the different classes of boats.
When I was younger, I craved performance. I wanted nothing more than to just go as fast as possible on the water. My desire for speed eventually led me to become a windsurfing enthusiast, but that is a whole other story. During my high-school and college years I spent a lot of time in International, and then Collegiate 420’s, a two-person dinghy. I thought they were slow and longed to spend time in a more performance-oriented dinghy, even though the 420’s could easily plane and give a good ride when the whitecaps showed up. When I started sailing keelboats, it was mostly the smaller J-boats (24’s and 29’s, mostly), but there was time spent on numerous other designs. I loved the taste of performance multi-hull sailing that I experienced as fill-in crew aboard a Nacra 6.0. The boats that I sailed in my teens and twenties were mostly well-regarded classes that taught me what a fun, responsive boat felt like. They sailed well in a wide variety of conditions with good speed and few bad habits. There is a reason that the one-design dinghies and keelboats that I sailed in were such popular designs–they were good all-round boats.
When I finally had enough money to consider buying my own sailboat I began to consider all aspects of its use. I couldn’t really justify spending a ton of money on a boat that was only good for racing. By this time my sights were fixed on the far horizon rather than outright speed. I wanted to explore the world from the deck of my own sailboat, so I decided to look for a reliable design that could take me anywhere I wanted to go. What I ended up with was a Pearson Vanguard–a 32-foot racer/cruiser designed to the old Cruising Club of America rating rule.
Buying the Vanguard was a huge step for me in many ways. It was the first “big” boat that I had ever owned, it was my first home on the water, and it allowed me my first significant experience with something other than a centerboard or fin keel design.
The Vanguard has a “cutaway” keel with the rudder attached to the trailing edge. Looking at the profile of the boat, there is a lot of area that has been cut away, or hollowed out, making the deep part of the keel start a long way back from the bow. This is done in an effort to reduce the amount of boat in contact with the water, or wetted surface, to make the boat faster when the wind is light. This design achieves its intended goal of reducing wetted surface, but pays the price of introducing a couple of undesirable handling characteristics. The one that I remember most is how the bow would blow downwind when trying to maneuver at low speed. The high bow and long forward overhang on the Vanguard would catch the wind, turning the boat broadside to the wind very quickly. There was no underwater surface to counteract this tendency, and the rudder was way under the boat at the end of the shortened keel. This reduced the rudder’s effectiveness by giving it a shorter lever arm for turning the boat. Fin-keel boats don’t have a surface underwater up forward to stop the bow from blowing away from the wind either, but their rudders are placed farther back on the boat, which gives a stronger turning force and allows better control in low speed situations (especially in reverse) compared to the cutaway-keel boat.
On the positive side, I really came to appreciate some of the good qualities of the cutaway keel on the Vanguard. The keel on the Vanguard is molded with the boat as one unit. The shape transitions smoothly from the hull to the keel, which prevents the front part of the keel from loading up with seaweed when sailing–a real plus when there is a lot of weed in the water! The shape of the keel also helps reduce shock loads in some grounding situations, such as when running onto a sloped sandbar. Not having a long fin keel sticking out of the boat also reduces structural loads when running aground–in particular eliminating the point-loading at the trailing edge of the fin keel that can cause it to push up into the hull and cause a lot of damage. Having the rudder attached to the trailing edge of the keel helps prevent seaweed, lobster and crab pot floats, and other fishing gear from getting trapped on the rudder. The keel shields the propeller as well. I never once had a pot or fishing line caught on my Vanguard, though I often sailed in waters thick with fishing gear. Besides making my life easier, fishermen don’t exactly appreciate having yachtsmen cut their floats from props and rudders, either…
A cutaway-keel boat tracks better than a fin-keel boat. The Vanguard didn’t need constant, minute attention to the helm. I could count on her to track well if I needed to adjust a sheet or otherwise divert my attention for a moment. This is a great characteristic to have in a cruising boat. I could balance the boat and let her sail herself for a while if I needed to go forward to attend something or use the head. I have had some luck locking the helm down on a fin-keel boat to keep them going straight for a short while, but this technique is not as effective as when used on a cutaway-keel boat or a full-keel boat.
Overall, the cutaway-keel Vanguard was a surprisingly enjoyable boat. I didn’t feel too handicapped by the speed penalty that I paid for the extra wetted surface of the cutaway full keel. She still had good speed even in light airs, and offered a more comfortable motion than most fin-keel boats that I have been on. The comfort was due in part to her keel design, but also because the Vanguard was heavier, deeper, lower in freeboard, and had a more moderate beam than the other cruising sailboats that I had experienced. I don’t want to contribute to the myth that there aren’t any comfortable fin-keel boats out there! Those boats do exist. They are just more difficult to find (it’s not fashionable to build relatively narrow boats with easy bilge sections these days) and still won’t offer the other advantages of a keel with an attached rudder, like weed-shedding, or a rudder that doesn’t rely solely on the stock for attachment to the boat…
When I went searching for a small, versatile cruiser a few years ago I settled on the Contessa 26. This design is based on an older design than the Vanguard, and has a much longer cutaway keel. It is getting pretty close to a full keel, but still has a concave shape to the forward end. The longer keel eliminated some of the poor handling characteristics of the more dramatically cut-away keel on the Vanguard. Having a longer keel gave the rudder a longer lever arm and actually improved steering, even though there was a much longer keel to drag through tight turns. She tracked like a dream and worked very well with her self-steering gear in all conditions. I loved sailing this boat. The Contessa 26 design was close enough to a proper, old-school full-keel boat that it seemed only a small leap to go all the way to a full-keel the next time that I went boat shopping…