Saturday, July 28, 2012

JK University

Back in April, when I was out in Savannah getting work done on Whispering Jesse and spending time with family, I took a few days to drive down to Fort Lauderdale for a blue water sailing seminar led by John Kretschmer. I planned to write an article about it for Cruising World magazine, and I obtained John's permission ahead of time, along with his assurance that he would contact the magazine for their approval. The idea was that John would benefit from the free publicity and I would earn another publishing credit. So I was surprised and disappointed when I received a polite rejection indicating that the magazine was aware of John's seminars and planned to write its own article about an upcoming one. I had been scooped!

Since it's not going to be published, I might as well post it here:

Caribe, a Beneteau First 456, is pulled over to the pier by John Kretschmer
JK University’s Blue Water Passage Making Workshops

Suppose you’re an experienced coastal cruiser looking to take your sailing to the next level, to blue water passage making. Where do you turn for instruction and guidance? If you’re like most sailors, you get started by reading books by such noted sailing authors as Jimmy Cornell and John Vigor. But books will only provide you with theory. What about practical, hands-on experience? It used to come only from taking the risk on your own by making an actual passage, or by signing on as crew for an experienced captain. More recently, there have been instructional passage-making trips offered by outfits such as Mahina Expeditions.

Now there is a new offering, mixing classroom instruction with practical experience to fill in the knowledge gaps of potential ocean-going sailors: JK University, named in tongue-in-cheek fashion after its founder, Capt. John Kretschmer. John is best known for the book he wrote about his delivery captain days, Flirting with Mermaids, and for the passage-making trips he offers through his outfit, John Kretschmer Sailing. He has partnered with Bob Pingel, a contributing editor to Sailing magazine, and Rick Thompson, a marine electronics expert, to provide four-day workshops designed to answer all the big passage-making questions, with an emphasis on safety and self-sufficiency: What are the best methods for avoiding hurricanes? How do I splice a rope for an anchor snubber?

John Kretschmer supervises a life raft launch in a swimming pool
JK University’s Blue Water Passage Making Workshops are conducted three times a year in John’s hometown of Fort Lauderdale, Florida or in Solomons, Maryland. Both locations are close to water for easy access to ocean-going sailboats. Firsthand inspection of a well set-up vessel or two is one of the key components of “field trip Saturday,” along with the actual deployment of a Switlik life raft. Here is a typical workshop syllabus:

  • Introduction: Myths and realities about passage making
  • What makes a boat a blue water capable boat? Slideshow of 25 great boats
  • Outfitting: Necessary, nice, extravagant – 10 important items for a serious boat
  • Hands on – Rope
  • Inspecting boats: Caribe, a Beneteau First 456 performance cruiser and retrofit project, and Tioga, a brand-new Hylas 56
  • Hands on – The bullet-proof electrical system
  • Hands on – Standing rigging, discussion of rigging emergencies at sea
  • Passage planning, pilot charts, safety, weather, watch schedules, crew management, food preparation
  • Communications at sea: Satellite phones, wifi, SSB, VHF, AIS
  • Life raft launch
  • What’s new in cruising sails? A plan for optimizing “manageable” downwind performance; sail plans for storm sailing; how to spend money on cruising sails
  • Heavy weather: Dealing with storms, gales and squalls
  • Chart work and celestial navigation in the digital age: Thinking like a navigator

John Kretschmer discusses the merits of Tioga, a brand-new Hylas 56
Workshops run from early Thursday afternoon through late Sunday afternoon to help make scheduling as easy as booking a long weekend trip. The late start on Thursday and early finish on Sunday allow out-of-town attendees to arrive and depart without the expense of additional overnights.

To reserve your spot at the next JK University workshop, scheduled for February 7 to 10, 2013, please visit the John Krestschmer Sailing website at and click the Schedule link. In addition to a calendar of workshops, you’ll find all kinds of passage-making opportunities designed to help you build your confidence and broaden your experience.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Ute Petroglyphs

Pedestrian bridge over Gunnison River at Bridgeport
Scout and I, and sometimes Nan, have continued to hike the Grand Junction area's desert trails this summer despite the record-setting heat. My interest in petroglyphs has had us hiking new trails almost every weekend in search of ever more impressive examples of the primitive rock art.

Over Memorial Day weekend, Scout and I hiked in the Dominguez Canyon, starting from the Bridgeport end that is accessible from Highway 50, south of town about 20 miles. After crossing the Gunnison River on a beautifully designed steel pedestrian bridge, we passed through the river rafters' campsites and worked our way up into the canyon on a well-used trail. In addition to the petroglyphs I hoped to see, some people we met on the trail told me about an impressive waterfall we should be sure to see that was off the trail about five minutes before the petroglyph area.

Dominguez Canyon petroglyph mural
The petroglyphs were pecked into rock surfaces immediately adjacent to the trail, so there was no difficulty finding them. I noticed right away that the petroglyphs in these murals seemed much more recent than the ones I have seen around Moab and other places. The contrast between the art and the background was much more pronounced, and the images were more distinctly recognizable as humans, animals and symbolic designs. The biggest clue, though, was that several of the images depicted humans on horseback. Horses were introduced into the New World by Spanish explorers only 500 years ago, so these petroglyphs would have been created by the Native Americans who populated western Colorado in the years since then: the Utes.

Dominguez Canyon petroglyph mural of Ute hunters
The most dramatic of the murals showed several humans on horseback hunting an abstract-looking creature that I interpreted to be a bear based on the paw print associated with it. The lead hunter appears to be wearing an elaborate headdress and riding a larger horse. As is unfortunately the case with most petroglyphs, idiots have added graffiti to the mural in the form of initials and a crude, scratched-in version of a horse. True petroglyphs are pecked into the stone, not scratched.

On our way back down from the petroglyph area, Scout and I kept an eye on the stream that runs through the canyon to see if we could figure out where the waterfall would be. There was a point where the stream appeared to run into a wall of rock, so we left the trail to investigate. We found a spectacular waterfall where the stream took a sharp right turn at the rock wall and the water fell more than 50 feet to the gravel below. The stone surface beneath the stream, leading up to the falls, was well-worn, leaving shallow pools that Scout felt obliged to swim in and cool off.

Scout at the Dominguez Canyon waterfall
The following weekend was Nan's and my wedding anniversary, and we celebrated by hiking the Palisade Rim Trail, at the far eastern end of Palisade, east of Grand Junction off Interstate 70 and above the Colorado River. Even with an early morning start, it was a hot and buggy hike. There was a large crew of volunteers working to get the trail into shape for mountain biking, which is the trend in this area: Trails that have been used by hikers and horseback riders for years are discovered by mountain bikers, modified to accommodate their needs, and then overrun by them. I'm not anti-mountain biking, but there are riders out there who could stand to learn some trail etiquette. The main reason I don't ride myself is because I don't think it would be fair to Scout to have him try to keep up with me. So I hike with him instead, and he is happy.

Palisade Rim Trail petroglyphs (Note figure with bow!)
The petroglyphs we found on this hike were not so impressive. The murals were smaller, and there were fewer of them. The petroglyphs appeared to be of the same vintage as the Dominguez Canyon ones and depicted similar scenes, so we guessed that they were also created by the Utes who inhabited the area and perhaps used this remote mesa above the Colorado River as a hunting camp. The primary difference I noticed was that these petroglyphs were mostly of deer and elk, while the Dominguez Canyon ones were mostly of bears and bighorn sheep, leading me to think that the fauna in the two areas were at least somewhat different even though the areas were only 30 miles apart.

Palisade Rim Trail petroglyphs of deer or elk
On Independence Day, Scout and I returned to Dominguez Canyon, this time with Nan. I wanted to share the petroglyphs and the waterfall with her. It had been very hot since Scout and I had done the hike a few weeks earlier, and the stream in the canyon had dried up. The waterfall was not flowing, and there was only a single pool of water left. It was filled with tadpoles striving to become desert frogs if the pool did not evaporate first.

Desert bighorn sheep in Dominguez Canyon (Click for enlargement!)
Nan was having issues with her hips, so the dried-up waterfall was her turnaround point. Scout and I proceeded quickly up the trail from there to snap some photos of the petroglyphs to show Nan what she was missing. When we caught back up with her, she spotted some desert bighorn sheep in the fields on the other side of the canyon. There was a flock of about a dozen, grazing and keeping an eye on us. They were a thrill to see. I found out later that they had been recently reintroduced to the canyon, presumably after being hunted out of existence by the Utes many years before and leaving only their images on the stone walls to show they had once been there.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Tides and Currents

Mom, Dan and Nan with Whispering Jesse at Thunderbolt Marine on April 16, 2012
This blog post is one I have been thinking about since I returned from my trip to Savannah back in mid-April. I almost skipped writing it entirely because it will prove to be a little embarrassing, but this blog is supposed to be about sailing, and sailing necessarily involves a healthy dose of learning from mistakes. So here it is:

Near the end of the Savannah trip, on the Friday before the weekend when family would start returning home, I invited everyone out for a sail on Whispering Jesse. My mother stayed behind, but my father, my sister Jane, her husband Josh, their twin sons Max and Ben, and my sister Susan were all up for it. So Nan and I spent some early morning time at the marina that day getting the boat ready: taking off the sail cover, replacing a missing mainsheet shackle, spraying the luff track with SailKote lubricant, and listening to the weather on the VHF. It was looking dark and blustery out to the east in the open ocean, and I was concerned that there might be too much wind for comfort. I checked the wind instruments and they were showing about 15 knots out of the east, counter to the prevailing westerlies.

When six family members arrived at a little after 9:00, we welcomed them aboard and gave them a quick tour of the boat. I had checked the tide table and the current would be running lightly against us as we backed out of the slip. With the transmission in reverse, we cast off the dock lines, and moved slowly back against the current, assisted by the wind. I put the transmission into forward and made a smooth turn to starboard to put us out into Delegal Creek, heading down the estuary toward Ossabaw Sound. We followed the line of channel markers out toward open water and were surprised when the depth meter continued to register single digits of foot depth under the keel. Slack tide would not occur until 1:00 in the afternoon, so shallow water was to be expected, but we were more than a half-mile from shore. In addition to being shallow, Ossabaw Sound is also prone to shoaling, and we lightly bounced the keel over a few sandy ones as we headed out to sea.

The current was flowing opposite the wind, creating significant chop and whitecaps and making for a bumpy ride. I let my nephews, who are learning to sail dinghies at home in Seattle, take turns at the wheel, but they didn't seem too confident with steering a larger boat in choppy conditions and willingly relinquished control back to me. We continued to motor out through the waves, spraying the people sitting up at the bow who were looking for dolphins. When we reached a depth where it would have been safe to head directly into the wind and raise the mainsail, I decided against it. It was just a little too rough for inexperienced sailors and I didn't want to scare anyone. Instead, we turned around and headed in for calmer waters. We followed the southern shore of Skidaway Island for a ways, spotting several dolphins in the shallow waters, until everyone was ready to return to shore.

I phoned Jimmy, the dockmaster, as we passed the channel's entrance markers, and asked if he could meet us at the pier to receive a dock line. He said he would, and he was standing at the corner of the fuel dock as we approached. It is difficult to judge current from a moving boat, so it did not appear that it was running significantly faster than it had been when we departed almost two hours before, but it most definitely was. To steer the boat back into the slip, I would need to make a tight 180-degree turn to starboard against the current. As I began the turn, putting the boat's beam to the current, the force of the water started pushing the boat sideways, leaving no room to complete the turn. I cranked the transmission into reverse, to back up against the current and get the bow pointed at the slip, but the little folding, two-blade propeller was no match for the strong current. The boat crashed sideways into a barnacle-encrusted piling and my neighbor's bow anchor, and there we were pinned. We quickly moved fenders into position to keep the anchor and piling from grinding against the hull and cap rail and causing further damage. And then we tried to figure out what to do. Jimmy had climbed over the neighbor's boat to see how he could help and said that he didn't think we would be able to move the boat until slack tide, still a couple of hours away. He then assisted everyone but Nan, my father and me in getting off the boat by way of the neighbor's boat. One of my sisters had called my mother and she arrived to take the rest of the group back home.

We were resigned to waiting for slack tide until Joel and his wife Bonnie, who own a Cat Ketch they keep at a slip across from ours, came over to see how they could help. Joel is an old salt and according to Bonnie, he has extensive experience with boat rescues. He suggested floating a long anchor line down from the adjacent pier, tying it off at the bow and using it in conjunction with a stern line, to control the boat's rotation, to pull the boat across to an empty slip at the adjacent pier. It worked like a charm. We didn't even need to use the engine; it just took Joel and a marina employee to pull the boat over while I steered. My father, Nan and I secured the boat in the slip to await slack tide and thanked everyone for their help. Joel said he would be around later if we needed assistance with getting the boat back into her own slip, and we told him that after the morning's experience, we would appreciate all the help we could get.

After lunch, my father, Nan and I returned to the marina to find the water almost motionless. Joel was expecting us, and he suggested using the anchor line again but as a safety measure this time. He tied it to a stern cleat and played it out like a leash as I backed out of the slip, turned the stern to port, put the transmission into forward, and turned to starboard to slowly glide into the opposite slip. Jimmy was waiting to receive a dock line, and we soon had the boat secured in her home slip. We thanked Joel and Jimmy profusely and headed for home.

Nan and I decided we owed Joel a thank-you gift and went to find a liquor store for a good bottle of wine. When we returned to the marina, Joel and Bonnie were working on replacing the portlights on their boat. We gave them the wine and thanked them again for their help. We got to talking boats, and Bonnie said that people walking on the pier frequently stopped to admire Whispering Jesse, that she is such a pretty boat. She asked if she could see what the boat was like on the inside. We said sure and opened her up for a little tour. Bonnie commented about the roomy cabin and its abundant storage space as I showed them around and answered their questions.

Back on the pier, Joel and I assessed the damage to the boat's starboard beam. There were some deep gouges in the teak cap rail and in the fiberglass below from the flukes of my neighbor's anchor, and some significant scratching from the barnacles on the piling, but it was all merely cosmetic and could be made to look as good as new. All in all, we were lucky that it wasn't much worse. Joel said he knew a guy who specialized in boat carpentry who could take care of the cap rail and any other wood-related issues. I told him I would get his phone number when I returned to Savannah, which is now starting to look like next Thanksgiving weekend.

I talked with Jimmy the next day when we sought him out to give him a tip for his services. He said that he would have been fine with me just pulling the boat up to the fuel dock and leaving her there until slack tide before moving her into her slip. How I wish he had suggested that when I called him to take a dock line!

The moral of this story: Tides and currents are serious forces, especially in tight quarters where they make maneuvering extremely difficult. Check the tide tables, and try to time marina arrivals and departures to correspond with the slack tide periods between ebbs and flows. When in doubt, stay put if you're already secure, and look for temporary alternatives, like anchoring or tying up at an easier location, if you're trying to dock. Most importantly, don't be in a hurry. Take the time to evaluate the situation and make a common-sense plan. Someday, I hope to have enough time to take my own advice.