Skipper and Captain Dave

SkipperI received an order for one of my nautically inspired dog leashes the other day from the Land Down Under (Victoria, Australia). To my surprise, the leash was a Christmas present for “Skipper” the West Highland Terrier and his boss Captain Dave (my Australian counterpart). Captain Dave and Skipper on their "land yacht"As the tale unfolded, I learned that Skipper is fonder of free-ranging  (although I am certain he will love my handmade leash) especially when he returns from the hairdresser and smells of perfumey grooming shampoo. There’s always a story behind the story. It turns out that Captain Dave (featured here with Skipper at the wheel of the “lawnmower yacht”) is a retired commercial gummy shark fisherman and sailor. After a bit of research, I learned that a gummy shark seemed to be in the same family as our “dogfish”, and used in fish and chips.

Perhaps someday, if I count my lucky stars, I can be part of the crew with Skipper on Captain Dave’s beautiful “couta boat” or his mate’s Storm Bay and set off to Tasmania!Captain


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One Day in Maine


Photos by Cathleen Adkin and Dave Bill

DSC01736Each summer I teach two weeks of sailing classes at the WoodenBoat School in Brooklin, Maine. One of the courses I teach is appropriately named “The Craft of Sail on Belford Gray.” In essence, this course provides five days of sailing experience and adventure on a traditional (engineless) Friendship Sloop on the Down East waters of Eggemoggin Reach and Jericho Bay.


As a result of teaching on Belford Gray for the past many summers with different student crews, I have amassed an arsenal of yarns, which could fill many pages. Here though, I will share the account of a particularly memorable Maine day aboard Belford Gray.


DSC01720The day started as many summer Maine mornings often do with NOAA broadcasting a chance of afternoon thunderstorms, patchy fog in the morning, with light and variable winds. A forecast like this typical one is always a challenge for a sailing instructor on an engineless craft with no electronics. How does one make an engaging lesson plan for his students if the wind never fills in and/or the afternoon thunderstorms threaten sufficiently to abort leaving the mooring?


When I arrived on the waterfront to meet my class for our morning meeting, the fog hung over the Reach like a wet blanket. I discussed our tentative plan (weather dependent) for the day. We would go over necessary skills on Belford at the mooring while we were waiting for the wind to fill in (from past experiences on the Maine coast, I was banking on the fog lifting and the sea breeze filling in around 11:00ish).


First on the lesson plan was to experience propelling Belford under oars (appropriate to try out because there was 0 wind). Belford has two sculling oars, which we set up with oarlock sockets. Sitting shoulder to shoulder with one crewmember on each oar, and a helmsman on the tiller, we let go of the mooring and successfully propelled Belford around. We added a complimentary force from our Shellback skiff, pulling ahead with a towline off the bow.


The next lesson was to work out the particulars of man overboard recovery. For this necessity, Belford is equipped with a LIFESLING deployed off the stern. We discussed the steps required for a man overboard and the figure-8 recovery method. The challenge (which I had never tried out before on Belford) was to lift a person out of the water and up to the deck. We found that if we unshackled the main throat halyard and added an additional length of line with a double sheet bend, we could attach the throat halyard to the LIFESLING and drop it to the waterline.  One of the students, Simon, volunteered to go into the water to test out our procedure.  Bingo, with one person on the throat halyard, Simon was raised easily out of the water and up to the deck!


While still waiting on the wind I proposed an early lunch with the after lunch plan of a short (1 nautical mile) voyage to the north side of Hog Island near Little “Piglet” Bear Island. With consideration for the unstable weather conditions, our plan was for a conservative local voyage. During lunch we took a peek at the weather radar on the iPhone. We immediately noticed a solid red line of inland thunderstorms heading our way from west to east and parallel to the entire Maine Coast. We decided that we would take another look at the radar when we got to Hog Island to get an update on the progress of the cold front.


The wind had not filled in when we let go of the mooring pennant. We put into practice our morning propulsion lesson. With Mark towing ahead with the skiff and one of us on each sweep oar, Belford carried us along to our destination. After a good 50-minute workout including singing Annie’s sea shanties, we arrived at our anchoring location. Anchor down, we reviewed the radar as planned. The front was developing and still heading toward us. We could see the building clouds to the west and north of our location. The temperature started to drop and the wind was consistently clocking around . . . south, southwest, west, northwest, north. We considered two options: stay put, set out a second anchor, and ride the weather out or head back immediately toward the approaching weather and make the relatively short distance to the mooring. If we decided to make the trip back, we would take a tow from the school’s launch to ensure that we made a safe and efficient return and drop sails en route. We phoned the Boathouse base for a second opinion and to coordinate a game plan. We agreed that we would raise anchor and start sailing back (under staysail and our “peak reefed” mainsail, which would allow us to get sail down quickly if necessary).  This as the launch escort came out to meet us and give us an auxiliary push back home to our mooring.


Safely back on the mooring and while putting the boat in order, we were very aware of thunder and lightening increasing around us. Many cruising sailboats were coming in from the Reach and securing themselves in the anchorage. The atmosphere had all of the bad signs of a “good one.” The Belford crew gathered in the cockpit for a quick debriefing. “Did we do the right thing?” was the topic of our final discussion.  But we all knew that without the benefit of hindsight, only time would tell.



Belford’s crew called it a day and headed ashore. Simon, Annie and I remained aboard and watched the rain, thunder, and lightning roll in. The atmosphere was clearly unstable and unhappy. Small swirling funnel clouds were forming, rising and dissipating. The rain came in heavy downpours. Much to our surprise, the wind never materialized. But it could have. Some summers ago 60 knots of wind had rolled in with an afternoon thunderstorm into Great Cove and capsized a moored (sails down) 18’ catboat. My recommendation is constant vigilance, minimize risk, and utilize many measures of common sense.


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Down Island 25 Years Later

IMG_4084I returned to Grenada 25 years later. The first time I was Down Island was on the Great St. James, an 85′ Motorsailer, as first mate. After dropping off our month long charter, I rented a purple Honda Elite motor scooter and buzzed around the island on the left side of the road.

We arrived on the Spice Island to spend a two-week vacation from our jobs and the tedious long New England winter. For the first week we rented a house and car in St. David’s Parish, just a stone’s throw away from La Sagesse on the southeastern side of the island. We had a week of seeing Grenada by land and then the second week by sea.

Driving on the Island was nerve wracking. Getting passed and honked at on switchbacks put me on the defensive. We visited St. Georges first thing in the morning, walking past the long line fishing boats secured to the quay and the taxi drivers hustling us for a fare. “No thanks, just walking.” I’m sure that we resembled cruise ship passengers.

The chocolate making at Belmont Estate was worth getting lost (several times) trying to find. Fortunately the locals waved us in the right direction on the signless washed out roads. Somehow we found ourselves in Gouyave (the fishing village on the west coast). We also spent a great afternoon in Petite Bacaye, where we had a fantastic lunch. Another fun but curious visit was to John’s Fete (a local guy we met along the way), where he and his neighbors were cooking an iguana stew with dough dumplings. We sampled the goat, pig, and chicken curry instead and washed it down with some cold Caribs. Our new friend Dave (a retired teacher from PA) who had lived on Carriacou 40 years ago with his young family came along…which leads me to the second half of my story.

IMG_4075We loaded our provisions and belongings onto Pandora, our 47′ bareboat charter sloop in True Blue harbor. We set off to Carriacou the next morning and headed northeast, along the lee side of Grenada. The east to west currents, driven by the trade winds, were strong and our passage north was long and an uphill slog. Needless to say, we were grateful to get our anchor set (after dragging the first time) in Tyrell Bay. A day of recovery and a dry out was due the next day. We did some de salting and clean up on the boat the next morning while boat watching the rest of the anchored cruising fleet. I snorkeled to see where the reef was that was glaringly visible on the GPS.

We did a bit of sight seeing in the mangroves by dingy to take a look at the protected oyster beds and walked about by foot. We met a friendly local guy who ran the island doggy day care. He was obviously a dog guy and had a Rottweiler, 2 labs, and a couple of other mixed breeds. We chatted about his dogs and how he came about acquiring them. On Grenada, pregnant dogs were everywhere and milled about freely. On Carriacou, only the goats ran free. “Don’t leave the gate open,” said the sign at the day care.

From Tyrell Bay, we went around the corner the next morning past Mabouya Island and to Sandy Island, which provided good snorkeling and is a pretty spot. Hillsborough was our favorite 2-day stop over. Although Hillsborough is a busy commercial port (ferry from Grenada, cargo ships, fishing vessels, and passenger excursion ships, and yachts) we found good provisioning, a bakery, deli, fresh fruits at the open market, ice, and even a fish market.

IMG_4044We decided to take the bus to Windward, which was worth the trip on the narrow, steep roads. Our “bus” driver played the radio loud while the brakes were squealing at every turn. We felt like part of the island community with Moms traveling with their children, a cook carrying a propane tank to refill, and women with colorful hats heading to market. At Hillsborough we picked up some of our favorite plantain chips, some fresh mangoes and a ripe pau pau for breakfast.

Later that day we took the dingy “Caribe” down to Paradise Beach in L’Esterre Bay to the Hardwood Cafe (Dave and Polly’s recommended place). A mobile bakery truck just happened to be making its rounds so we picked up fresh sweet roll, coconut drop, a salted fish cake and cheese/potato danish.IMG_4050

We departed for our return trip back to Grenada, this time with apparent wind abaft the beam. Around Kick em Jenny we hit a 9.5-knot top speed. It was a great ride until we reached the flukey west coast of Grenada and then our average speed dropped by half. We were escorted by a pod of porpoises for a portion of our passage. We stopped in Grand Mal for the night and then the next day pressed on to Prickly Bay. Around the Pt. Saline corner is a head wall of wind and waves to get through. We got our mainsail down after heading up on the lee side of Prickly Point, and then scouted out the anchorage for a proper place to put down.IMG_4092

Just as we were about to leave the next morning we had the surprise of seeing a sea turtle swimming toward us them dipping down underwater. We had heard there were many in this area but this was the first one we saw.


Bottom line is that we loved our time in 12 degrees north latitude and would welcome the chance to sail Down Island again.

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