Boat Journal

Chronicling a love affair with sailing

Month: June 2008

Cock Island – The Journey Home

Steve N and I took 4 Degrees back to Yorktown on Sunday. We didn’t get moving until about 11, after we had breakfast and said all our goodbyes.

It was hot, and the wind just wasn’t there as we traveled up the Elizabeth River. We began to fear we’d have to motor the entire way. No one else seemed to be having much luck either, so it wasn’t for our lack of trying.

As we turned the corner from the Elizabeth into the bay, our luck changed and the winds picked up. We actually had some pleasant sailing for awhile.

But, as we moved further up the bay, the waves got rougher and the winds got stronger. We were going downwind, and the winds were mainly off starboard, but Steve rigged a preventer, just in case, to prevent the main from whipping across the boat.

Not much longer after that, we took in the jib. But, by then, the winds were strong enough that it was difficult to roll it in smoothly.

My boat is well rigged for reefing the main. There are lines on the mainsail itself, as well as rigging on the boom. I asked Steve why we didn’t do so. He said we were moving well and he didn’t want to slow us down.

Um, yeah. Heavy winds will do that. And, as one friend said when I told him of this experience, by the time you think you should reef the main, it’s usually too late.

Kenny talked to me over the weekend about the experience of ‘surfing’ a sailboat. Sounded kind of strange to me. But we actually did that. We hit some of those waves just right that we rode their crests for a bit.

As time goes on and the weather gets worse, I’m getting more and more nervous. But I really got nervous when Steve put on a life jacket. I told him where the harness was, too, and he put that on. He then took the wheel and I went to don a life jacket as well.

And all this time, I’m wondering what I’m going to do if he falls over. I can’t reach the radio – I’m too nervous to leave the wheel. My cell phone is below, because I was afraid of losing it overboard. Only thing I can think to do is hit the ‘Man Overboard’ button on my GPS, to mark the location, and let someone know as soon as I get to port.

We see the storm rolling in, and the rain and lightning in the distance. It doesn’t look like it’s going to get better any time soon. Then the preventer broke. Luckily, neither of us was in the way when the main whipped across the cockpit. Steve commented later that next time, he should rig it with something heavier. My comment back was better that the preventer broke than something on the boat.

Finally, after his lifejacket is on, Steve brings down the mainsail. We still haven’t reached the mouth of the York River, so we have a couple of hours to go. But we’ll do that motoring, which is much safer.

We do make it to Wormley Creek safe and sound. And, as usual, there’s no wind in the marina, even though the storm is still playing itself out on the river.

It’s 6 o’clock now. It’s taken us 7 hours for the entire trip.

We finished putting everything away and Steve asked if I wanted to head somewhere for dinner. I didn’t. I gave him a hug, told him no thanks. I did thank him for coming with me. But right about then, I just wanted to go home, crawl into a fetal position, and thank the gods that I was still alive.

Cock Island Race

Steve N agreed to be on my crew for the race. He also brought along a friend, Steven. Steve R and Dew found me 4 other guys to round it all out: Clint, Clint, Kenny and Kevin. Kenny and Kevin are quite experience racers. As Kevin said, he’d be sailing since he was this high (imagine hand held about knee high on a guy over 6′ tall). Kenny was my mainsail trimmer; Keith and Steve N took the jib sheets.

I told the guys that the rules were that the people didn’t hurt and the boat didn’t get hurt. I then proceeded to take 4 Degrees far enough up the Elizabeth River that no one else was around so we (I) could get some practice tacking. We were in the Cruising 3 Class, out of 4 cruising classes, so we were to start next to last.

We began working our way to the starting line about 10 minutes before start time. Mind you, I would have been happy to start after everyone else. But my crew assured me we’d be okay.

Anyway, the wind died on our way up, and we ended up starting 4 minutes after our class, 1 minute before the last class of the day.

Now, I’ve raced on other boats for 5 years. But it’s not quite the same as being the one at the helm. At least, it isn’t for me. I stayed out of people’s way. That was my whole purpose. Despite that, we were moving pretty good.

With the light winds, the course was made pretty short – only 6 miles round trip. The winds are tricky up the Elizabeth River, though. With all the large ships and the big buildings, the wind will shift, die, and pick up in short order. So I was quite grateful for the experience crew who could adapt quickly to the situation at hand.

The one part that made me nervous was heading around the turn. I tell you there were other boats out there! And they were going to hit me! 🙁

Kenny was on my mainsail, Kevin and Steve N handled the jib sheets, and I skippered. Well, I stood at the wheel, but Kenny and Kevin really handled the rest.

I moved way behind the others, upriver a bit, to get a chance to try turning. That went well. When Kenny said it was time to head towards the start, I kept to the side and did that. Mind you, I wouldn’t have minded starting last. But we headed up so as to at least start within our group, the next to the last one. The wind died on us, though, and we actually started with the last group.

I was amazed! I’d never been on a boat that was so well controlled. I told them that it went best at about a 15 degree tilt (I don’t seem to pick up much speed after that) and they literally moved bodies around to keep us at that angle!

We did stay moving, and we did stay away from the other boats. The one part that made me nervous was coming around the turn. But again, Kenny and Kevin had the boat so under control that we sailed right around perfectly. And I do mean perfectly! Because the two that came right behind us ended up colliding!

Officially, we ended up coming in 8th out of 12 in our group. But, if you adjusted for our start time, we were 2nd. Not too bad for my first race.

Now the guys are telling me I need to do this more often. They suggested to Steve R that I skipper his boat during some of the races when I’m with him. They also suggest that they’d be happy to join me on some Wednesday night races. We’ll see.


Sail to Cock Island

The best laid plans……

I had stuff packed pretty well the night before. The only things I wanted to get on the way over were bagels (so they’d at least start out fresh!) and ice (never can have too much of that!). I told Steve N., Lee and Nelson that I wanted to leave the docs by 9:00. So they all planned on arriving between 8 and 8:30. I arrived first, a bit after 8. Lee and Nelson arrived next, not much after I did. Steve arrived about 8:30 and we started packing stuff on the boat. That was the long part, and first lesson learned: try to do all that the night before if you want to leave early in the morning!

My marker, when heading back to Wormley Creek, is a large barber pole colored stack at the refinery near the docks. Great thing is that you can see it forever. Bad thing is you can see it forever. You feel like you’re not getting anywhere when you leave, because you can still see the tower. You feel like it’s taking forever getting back because you can see the tower. With the heat, and no wind, it was a very slow journey out of the York River.

And I got burned.

I’ve had a great farmer’s tan this summer, since I wear a t-shirt and shorts most of the time I hang around the boat. I wanted to get a bit more color, though, to look better in my daily work dress. So I wore a swimsuit under my clothes. I took off my t-shirt, put on some SPF 30 sunscreen, and hoped for a bit of color. The results was that I did get some color, and the color was red. Second lesson: spend a bit less time getting full sun exposure. Might look into one of those sunscreen shirts.

Hmmm…. need to see if there’s a way to include my tracks from the GPS on here.

When we got down to GrandView, in the Chesapeake Bay, we finally had a bit of wind. Nelson took over steering at that point.

As those who’ve read my other posts understand, I’m a bit nervous about hitting bottom with this boat, since I seem to do it so often. My rule of thumb is to try to stick to water that’s at the least 10′ deep.

The waters from the York River down to Hampton Roads contain alot of shallows quite a ways from the short, so I try to stick close to the channel where I know it’s deep. Well, Nelson grew up in this area; he knows the waters well. So I guess I should have trusted him. But he wanted to take the boat closer to shore than I did, to avoid making the trip longer than it needed to be. I was still concerned about the shallowness. We finally reached a compromise on the distance from shore to stay.

We lost the wind still several times until we reached the Elizabeth River. I wasn’t concerned for me – I like just spending time on the boat. But I was worried for Lee and Nelson, who had activities for the evening planned. Next lesson: let your passengers know that it’s a bit harder to predict your arrival time when you’re dependent on the weather to get where you want to go.

Coming into the Elizabeth River, we finally got a good breeze. Blowing about 10 knots, it was finally some nice sailing. It was only 1 hour of what ended up being a 9 hour trip. But at least we did get to sail in a sailboat.


Cock Island

This weekend is the Cock Island Race in Portsmouth, Va. I’ll be taking the boat from Wormley Creek in York County to Portsmouth. Steve N., Lee and Nelson have offered to give me a hand.

I’ve heard many stories as to how the race got its name, but nothing I could call authoritative.

Apparently, in the ‘olden’ days, Norfolk was the ‘good’ side of the water, and Portsmouth, was the ‘bad’. Still cock fighting, gambling, prostitution and the like were illegal. So a barge would be set up in order to host such events. The barge would be called ‘Cock Island’. And thus, any references to it meant that a cock fight was going to be held.

I’ve also heard that the events actually took place in Portsmouth. But ‘Cock Island’ was still the code word for finding the events.

As for the boat races, they started as bragging rights – type thing. One boat captain swearing his was the fastest and others going to prove him wrong.

The current iteration started about 20? 25 years ago, can’t find out exactly. It’s always been a 2 – 3 day party, interrupted by a race. And, at its peak, there were more than 300 boats involved. Then, apparently, a city group took over running the event and started trying to ‘regulate’ it more: limiting the number of participants and, more importantly, limiting the liquor. The race participation reached a low point at that time. In fact, the city was going to cancel it, since they weren’t making any money on it, or so they claimed. The Portsmouth Boat Club took over the event several years ago and participation is slowly picking up.


Boat Un-/Re- Naming

Megan and I spent some time today putting together the unnaming and renaming ceremony for the boat. Here’s our text, gathered from a bunch of sources that I’ll reference when I get a few minutes:

Opening Invocation & Blessing:

In the name of all who have sailed aboard this vessel in the past and in the name of all who may sail aboard her in the future. We invoke the ancient Celtic water Goddess Danu for which the river Danube was named to favor us with her blessing today.

Expression of Gratitude:

Mighty Danu, Queen of all that moves in or on the waves, and mighty St. Nicholas, guardian of sailors! We offer thanks for the protection you have afforded this vessel in the past. We voice our gratitude that she has always found shelter from tempest and storm and enjoyed safe passage to port.”

Raise your cup

A toast to the previous owners of this vessel!

Supplication & De-Naming:

Oh mighty and great ruler of the seas and oceans, to whom all ships and we who venture upon your vast domain are required to pay homage, implore you in your graciousness to expunge for all time from your records and recollection all the old names this vessel has held. As proof thereof, we submit this ingot bearing her previous names to be corrupted through your powers and forever be purged from the sea.

At this point, the prepared metal tag is dropped from the bow of the boat into the sea.
Now therefore, we submit this supplication, that the all the old . names of this vessel be struck and removed from your records and archives.

Further, we ask that when she is again presented for blessing with her new name, she shall be recognized and shall be accorded once again the self-same privileges she previously enjoyed.
In grateful acknowledgment of your munificence and dispensation, we offer these libations to your majesty and your court.

Pour at least half of the bottle of Red Wine or Champagne into the sea from East to West. The remainder may be passed among your guests.

Cleansing of the Boat

We ask Danu to cleanse this boat and prepare her for her new name.

Take the sage around the boat. Invoke each of the wind gods at each direction.
Virgin splashes her pee from a cup onto the bow.


We ask Eurus, ruler of the East winds to grant us permission to use your mighty powers in the pursuit of our endeavors, ever sparing us the overwhelming scouree of your mighty breath.


We ask Boreas, exalted ruler of the North Wind to grant us permission to use your mighty powers in the pursuit of our lawful endeavors, ever sparing us the overwhelming scourge of your frigid breath.


We ask Zehpyrus, exalted ruler of the West Wind, grant us permission to use your mighty powers in the pursuit of our endeavors, ever sparing us the overwhelming scourge of your wild breath.


We as Notus, exalted ruler of the South wind, grant us permission to use your mighty powers in the pursuit of our endeavors, ever sparing us the overwhelming scourge of your scalding breath.

Surround this vessel in a shield of white, and a shield of blue. Together these shields will protect this vehicle and its occupants from all harm and mechanical breakdown. These shields will protect from harm any that come near this vehicle, especially the four-leggeds, the winged ones, and the finned ones. These shields will remain intact and at full strength until this vehicle returns home. As I have spoken, so mote it be.

Rededication & Re-Naming:

We will now perform the christening. Reverend Jimmy will provide a serenade during this part of the ceremony.

Let it be recorded, that on this day, June 1, 2008, and forever more, this fine vessel is named 4 Degrees. I name this ship 4 Degrees. May the gods and goddesses bless her and all who sail in her. So mote it be.

Take some more champagne and pour drinks for everyone who does not already have a drink. Make a toast to you, the owner, to your spouse or significant other, and last to your new boat, and pour that into the water. With every toast, ring the ship’s bell.

First mate: First, a toast to the Captain.
Captain: Next a toast to my lovely (or handsome) First Mate. Finally, a toast to Four Degrees!


Next, we will place a coins from all over the Earth under the mast as good luck charms, and as a symbol of generosity to this vessel, to show her that we will care for her and attend to her every need and desire.

Last, thank everyone for attending and continue the festivities in celebration of this joyous

Finally, a toast to all of you, with many thanks for coming today to help carry out this essential naming ceremony and to celebrate this festive occasion. Cheers/Salu/Lehiem