Thursday, February 04, 2010

Shift happens

For the one or two readers of this blog (yes, that includes you, Mom), I've shifted things over to Wordpress where I'll continue my sporadic updates. There's a link in the sidebar of this page, or you can click HERE to be transferred directly. I've also included a link on the new blog page to these old entries, so it is possible to navigate back and forth easily.

See you there - both of you!

Monday, February 01, 2010

Strictly Stale

Normally, Strictly Sail in Chicago provides a much needed mid-winter boat boost. Not this time.

Beyond a noticeable decrease in the number of vendors, there simply wasn't any buzz. Exhibitors seemed tired and uninterested. Guests stumbled about, gathering mostly in the aisles and staring listlessly at each other. Even Bob Bitchin seemed subdued, his usual deep tropical tan a bit faded and his curly locks hanging limply around his dangly earrings. We actually left early, preferring an overpriced Chicago meal to the boat show boredom. Sad.

What gives?

I know, I know. It's the economy, stupid. Not surprisingly, it's probably far more profitable for the smaller vendors to stay home and invest their time and money in internet sales rather than renting boat show space and lugging their gear half way across the continent. And speaking of the economy, a little boat show math would suggest that it's hardly worthwhile for some guests: 25.00 for 2 adults and 1 child; 25.00 parking; 2 hrs of drive time at 10.00 for gas; 1 3.50 Gatorade; 25.00 for food; my dad's trip from Ohio and back, 60.00. Total price for Strictly Stale? 148.50. We could have purchased another BlueChart for the North Channel for a few bucks more.

A few highlights included the Chesapeake Light Craft company, maker of stitch-and-glue kits. They were assembling an Eastport Pram and had a Passagemaker dinghy and a... (oh, what's it called?) ... another sailboat on display. Pretty cool boats.

The Garhauer booth was full of cool blocks and travelers and preventers and such. But as much as we'd like to have a proper traveler, it's just too much money - about 500+ bucks.

Many of the usual boat manufacturers were present: Jeanneau, Catalina, Hunter, Tartan and C&C. Island Packet out of Holland, Michigan, had its typical one-boat display. We toured a couple Tartans at Jake's request, and he was positively giddy about all of the interior space. I have other feelings, but at least it was a Tartan.

The best part of the trip was spending time with my two boys and their grandpa.

A mid-winter fix it wasn't, but I guess that just means that spring is going to be that much sweeter.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The finer things (or bitchin' joe)

Bob Bitchin Lats & Atts sailors we are not. Sundowners, Tommy Bahama print shirts, raft ups or rendezvous in crowded BVI anchorages, and pirate costume parties are completely unfamiliar - and equally undesirable.

Don't get me wrong, we appreciate the "finer" things aboard. For us, though, the finer things of life aboard include reliable ground tackle, a remote anchorage, a well-maintained auxiliary, solitude, kerosene lanterns, crisp sails, solitude, a fine hull and a stout rig. And though we indulge in a few areas, generally they enhance the boat's performance. For example, last season we updated to roller furling for the jib and staysail. One thing in which we unabashedly indulge, however, is our coffee. We take our coffee very seriously.

Today as I sat sipping my morning cup in the middle of a cold Michigan winter, with memories of summer sailing swirling through my mind, I thought I'd share our method for brewing an excellent cup of coffee aboard. So forget the pirates and buxom women, this is about solitude, sophistication, and a good cup of coffee to make the moment all the more enjoyable.

Good coffee starts with good beans. Coffee Fool's Velvet Hammer is about as good as it comes via mail order - and it's certainly much better than that other brand that so many swear by. Short of roasting your own, or finding a local roaster that you like, Coffee Fool is the ticket. Their coffee is fresh, they ship quickly, and they have a variety of blends to suit individual tastes.

Good beans aren't worth..., well, a hill of beans without a decent brewing method. If you swear by drip, a percolator, or French Press, you'll soon swear them off once you've tried the AeroPress. Distributed by the maker of Aerobie frisbees, the AeroPress is compact, easy to use and clean, and a mighty fine brewing method. The critical factors of time, temperature, and ratio are easily controlled to brew an excellent cup of coffee every time. Using a chamber, plunger, and micro-filter, the AeroPress allows the user to avoid bitterness while still extracting full flavor.

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In addition to the AeroPress and coffee, you'll need a grinder and a measuring glass of some sort. I find my old espresso cup works well. Here's how it works:

Step One:
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Insert micro filter into cap and screw cap to bottom of chamber.

Step Two:
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Place chamber on measuring glass and prepare coffee.

Step Three:
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Add beans to grinder and begin grinding. The AeroPress instructions include recommendations for measuring. I've discovered that nearly filling the grinder with beans gives me enough grounds to make two cups of coffee to my taste. You'll want a fairly fine grind, much finer than drip or French Press. Experimentation is the key here: too fine and it's impossible to press the coffee; too coarse and you won't get the flavor. Although I used an electric grinder here, we use the Zassenhaus knee mill aboard.
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Step Four:
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Using the supplied funnel, dump ground coffee into AeroPress chamber.

Step Five:
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Heat water to approximately 170 degrees and fill plunger to appropriate amount.

Step Six:
Add water to grounds in chamber.
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Stir for 10 seconds.
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Press.
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Step Seven:
You've just made a double shot of espresso. Pour out single shot of espresso into your mug.
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Step Eight:
Fill mug with hot water to make a cup of Americano. Enjoy!
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Clean up:
Unscrew filter cage, eject compacted "hockey puck" grounds, rinse. That's it! Total time to brew two cups of coffee is about five minutes.

Now that's bitchin'!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The mother ship

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We prefer to anchor out rather than tie up at a slip. Not only is it cheaper, but the solitude and spectacular views make it much more enjoyable. Far too frequently, however, our solitude and relaxation are spoiled when some ignorant or inconsiderate boater drops the hook just a bit too close, as though Ariel were the mother ship.

The scenario often plays out like this: We arrive early at a favorite anchorage, scope out our spot, drop the hook, let out plenty of rode, back down to dig in the anchor, then shorten up the scope to 5:1, depending on conditions. We soon have Ariel cleaned up and dinner cooking. Just about the time dinner's on, a mast appears outside the companionway. I step outside to see a guy dropping anchor only a few yards from our anchor.

And that's only part of the fun. Usually the skipper lets out just enough rode to get the anchor on the bottom, then he cleats the line, kills the engine, and goes below - job done. One fella followed this approach with one modification: he actually backed on the anchor with a scope of about 1:1, plowing a furrow 200 feet through the anchorage before he finally gave up and went below. Nice. This guy's slightly more knowledgeable twin brother showed up at another anchorage and dumped 100ft of chain in a pile on the bottom before retreating to the cabin.

Being the nice guys that we are, my dad and I generally up-anchor and head to another spot - one that is, naturally, more exposed or deeper or....

Not anymore. Now, we've developed a new protocol.

Step One: At the first sight of a new arrival, stand on deck and make self as visible as possible, squaring shoulders with newcomer. Establish eye contact with the skipper as soon as possible. If it's not possible to maintain eye contact with skipper, give foredeck person "the stare." Often times, the less confident foredeck person will grow uneasy and gently suggest to the skipper that "maybe this is too close."

Step Two: When skipper proceeds undaunted, tell him/her (no need to yell due to proximity) how much rode you have out and that they're anchoring too close. Note: This point is often unheeded since the skipper doesn't know what that means - if s/he did, s/he wouldn't be anchoring on top of you in the first place.

Step Three: Sit back and enjoy the show while maintaining stare. By now there is generally hollering - i.e., condescending remarks hurled between the foredeck person and the skipper - as they attempt to coordinate their operation.

Step Four: When newcomer has anchored, dinghy over with photocopied "Anchoring Tips and Techniques" from Dashews and explain the problem, kindly asking the skipper to leave. Skipper will likely be baffled by such words and concepts as rode, scope, windage, swing radius, underbody. Generally, this discussion is enough to encourage the skipper to move. If he doesn't . . . suck it up and move, or deploy fenders and try to get some sleep.

Not very satisfying, is it?! Sometimes people are just plain clueless. If they are, and you love your boat, you must move - or shorten scope even more and enjoy a sleepless night.

Last summer I came out of the cabin after dinner and made out the silhouette of a small boat anchored 20 feet from Ariel. After no response to yells, I used our high-powered spot to rouse the sleepy skipper. I kindly told him that he was probably a bit too close. Obligingly, he hauled in about 20 feet of rode (in 18 feet of water) and motored 200 feet away, where he cut the engine, threw the anchor over the side, and retreated to the cabin before the anchor hit the bottom. Wouldn't you know it, he was upwind. And, yes, a short while later he drifted down on us. Fortunately, he realized it and, once again, up-anchored and headed into the nearby marina, doing every boat in the anchorage a favor.

Come on, guys, all it takes is a little reading and a bit of practicing. There's no excuse for not caring to care.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Off-season activities

A taste of what we do (besides work) during the off-season.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The North Channel, 2010

Last summer was supposed to be a trip to the North Channel. Unfortunately, it didn't happen. Next summer it's going to happen.

The plan is to make tracks north as quickly as possible, bypassing many of our typical stops. We'll then spend the better part of a month cruising the North Channel - and Georgian Bay, if time permits.

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We're in the process of acquiring the proper charts and chips for that area. Ariel should be pretty much ready for the trip without too much work, so spring fitting out won't be too rigorous. I'd like to have a new jib and staysail ready for the trip, but my time has already been dictated by other responsibilities. Maybe I'll be able to pull it off.

Ariel is doing well under her cover. My dad and I checked on her the other day and, other than a bit of snow on the cover, she's looking good.

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas! Best wishes for a Happy New Year.

The end of last summer's cruise:

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Summer 2008 - East Jordan and the South Arm