Hercules Down; Hercules Restored

July 30, 2016 – August 13, 2016


It never fails.  Today was the last day of the toughest and most intense two weeks of the year for me, our Summer Bridge program.  It was also the start of my vacation, during which I had planned to sail as much as possible, and even try a little cruising across the bay.  This was not to be.


I took out Ilya from the slip on July 30, first being annoyed that the battery had died because the lights had been on since the last outing.  Using the pull rope, I motored slowly around the west basin to raise the main.  Unfortunately I also inadvertently pulled out the fuel line, which is why the engine stopped.  After a while and several pulls, I got the engine going again and headed out to the river.  The wind wasn’t bad, but at some time I decided to lower the engine to move closer to the bay and I couldn’t get it started, no matter how hard I tried.  I could tell the wind was going to be great, and Bay Break even shouted at me to go out, but I had to shout my dilemma back to him.  My alternative was to sail back to the marina, which I did as the wind died and I was caught in the breakwater.  Many minutes (probably well over a half hour) later, I paddled my way back to the fairway and began the truly arduous task of getting a 2,000 lb. boat down a wide fairway and finally backed into the slip and secured.  With every pull I made on the engine, nothing happened.


I was convinced that perhaps I had damaged something when I pulled out the fuel line, but I also noticed that whenever I pressed the priming bulb I didn’t hear the squishing sound that indicated the fuel was flowing.  This necessitated calling up Spring Cove Marina to schedule service and calling BoatUS for a tow.  Thankfully, I have the unlimited gold towing package and I spent an hour and a half or so with a delightful couple who had moved to this area from Brooklyn and had recently taken over much of the BoatUS towing for our area.


The service department indicated that the fuel line was really shot because of ethanol in the fuel, so they had to replace it.  Four hundred dollars later (mostly labor, of course) and we were back in business.  The entire way from Spring Cove to West Basin I was nervous that we wouldn’t make it, but Hercules is truly restored.  Now I understand why boaters/ sailors are so dead set against adding additional ethanol to gasoline.


Engine hours:              2


First Guests Since….

July 11, 2016


In one of my few to days in a row times out on the Patuxent, I happened to take out two colleagues from work, our program coordinator and one of our mentor students, along with my wife.  Neither of them had ever been on a sailboat before, and in fact, the student thought I had a powerboat.  they and my wife joined me at the slip once my wife had gotten changed, and I was thinking and rethinking about whether I wanted to go out, since the chop and current seemed a bit stronger than I wanted, especially when taking out first time people.


We motored out of the slip (my staff person claiming this whole sailboat thing to be too  much work) then raised the reefed main within the west basin.  I was still not sure about what to do.  As we left the west basin, I noticed the other MacGregor in the marina (a 26) heaving to and lowering its sails as I was heading out.  This was also not encouraging to me, and I thought again about turning back, but even in about the five minutes we were out, it seemed as though the chop was becoming smoother and the winds steady or perhaps even lowering.  So, the other MacGregor (Irish Lady) came in even after being briefly visited by the coast guard.  Another boat from the marina, a Pearson 28 named Providence also left the marina when we did, bound and determined to motor to the bay.  I chose instead to just stay going back and forth from Solomons to west basin, and did so for three rotations.


As we were enjoying rather slow but steady time in Ilya, my staffer asked what I did while sailings: did I listen to music, read, what?  My response, was that I can’t really read very well while tacking in the river.  (Perhaps I could on the same heading for a couple of hours in the bay, but for the back and forth day sailing I tend to do, reading is out of the question.)  I did mention that I listened to old radio shows frequently, but mostly I just sailed and listened to the wind.  It was pretty clear that my friend and staff person would be much more at home with a powerboat rather than a sailboat.


It occurred to me with this interchange that those of us who are sailors don’t usually think about the fact that when we get on the water, we have to do some work — it’s all part of the experience, and in all honesty, I don’t reflect on the amount of work I have to do to get moving where I want to go:  I just relish being able to play with the wind to get where I want to go.


It’s definitely about the journey and not the destination, right?


Engine                                     25 minutes-ish

Sails                                         Reefed main, reefed Genoa, though more was deployed later

Chop, current                          2-3 feet earlier, then calming

Wind                                       8+ mph then calming to around 5 mph

Time                                        2 hours


July 10, 2016


My wife and I were able to get Ilya moving out of the marina, though I still wasn’t very happy with the amount of chop in the river.  I thought about heading to the bay, but also realized that just sailing back and forth and watching my points of sail would be good practice.


As we sailed, we were able to heel to about 15 degrees comfortably, and I also realized that my wife is probably braver than I am, though perhaps that’s because generally I don’t panic.  If I don’t she won’t, which is probably a good thing.  I made the mistake of saying “I hope this works,” which didn’t make her very comfy, so I quickly corrected myself and maintained my cool.  That made those last maneuvers of heaving to and lowering the main tolerable by her.


It wasn’t a great day out, nor a crappy day, it was just “meh.”



Engine                                     30 minutes

Sails                                         Reefed; Genoa as small “storm jib”

Chop, current                          3 foot waves, medium current

Wind                                       Up to 8 mph

Time                                        3 hours

Preventive Maintenance

July 9, 2016


As mentioned previously from July 8th,I noticed as I was furling the Genoa (actually, after I was safely back in the slip) that the furling line had a serious chafe in it, as pictured below:


I could just envision myself having another challenging time with a quick build of windspeed and having the line snap, then I would have been unable to furl the sail at all.  That idea was really unappealing.  So, after several trips to Lowes the purchase from which just didn’t feel right as I furled the Genoa, and two to West Marine, I installed the new furling line.  Of course, if the line from Lowes had worked, I would have paid only $8.99; the proper line from West Marine cost about $36.00, but it was definitely the proper line.


I think it was a wise purchase.

Could Have Made a Better Choice Coming In

July 8, 2016


Yep.  Heaving to would have been the right choice — if I could have kept all of my head about it.


As I started out, I raised the main before leaving the breakwater then headed out from the marina with very few people out there.  That all went smoothly, and because the wind was light, I raised the full main and deployed the full Genoa.  The wind picked up just enough for me to have some fun sailing back and forth across the river.  Shortly after I left, Auk left the marina and motored toward the bridge.  I considered a few times sailing there as well, but also remembered the one time my wife and I did that and it wasn’t pleasant — far too many powerboats play around the bridge and I didn’t relish having to deal with the wake and proximity to the bridge pilings at the same time.  It just looked like a recipe for disaster.  I’m sure that was the I right decision.  After all, Auk is about 38 feet long, and probably outweighs me by 4 to 8 times, so they can handle a lot more wave action than Ilya can.


Another good decision was to simply sail back and forth, rather than being drawn by the bay, though I did change that decision eventually.  As the wind built, I hunkered down and got as high as 5.8 knots, which is only 6.43 miles an hour, and I also tested myself to heel more and more.  Eventually, I decided to start going in at the last tack, nearing the helicopter area of the base near the river.  But as the heeling got too severe, nothing I could do with the Genoa worked, and it kept flapping out of control.  I quickly decided to reel it in rather than what I probably should have done, which was to heave to and settle the boat down.  That would have allowed me to then lower the main with the Genoa shielding it from what was about 13 mph winds, and waves up to around 3 feet.  Instead, I deployed Hercules, used the self-steering device and very painstakingly lowered the main by pulling on the bottom of the sail.  I was able to get enough of the main down to motor in, but even the small bit of sail that was still up made motoring very slow and scary.  I kept my head enough to eventually get in and thankfully, once within the breakwater the water calmed as did the wind.


What really surprised me was that one of the old Coast Guard boats was out with me and didn’t seem bothered at all, while another was heading out while I was coming in!  Are these people crazy?


I was somewhat satisfied that the one out with me came back in right after me, so perhaps I wasn’t as much a scaredy-cat as I thought was.


Tying up at the slip was simple, though I perhaps should have followed the example of the other Coast Guard boat and flake my main more carefully.  That’s tough to do alone, but not impossible, so I think I need to do that.  Something I definitely need to do is replace the furling line: some chafe has damaged it and the last thing I want is to be unable to furl the Genoa in high winds.




Engine                         20 minutes

Sails                             Full

Chop/ current              Mild, then very challenging

Wind                           Light like less than 4 mph to 13

Time                            4 hours

Timing is Everything

July 6, 2016


Got to the marina and was able to raise the main before leaving West Basin.  I also noticed a young guy taking Bay Break out as well.  That’s the boat that I just noticed a couple of weeks ago and is new at the marina, though the only time I saw them out was with three people rather than one.  I noticed that he was at full main, while I was still reefed.  We both headed out generally toward the bay, but I was trying to sail at a beam or close reach: he seemed to be close hauled.  And not only that, but he was just smoking me in getting out to the bay.


Eventually, I shook out my reef and deployed my full Genoa, and made better progress.  It was really fun, and I thought I might turn back at around 6:15, but I was having so much fun and making good progress, I stayed through about 6:30, even though Bay Break and another sailboat had already turned around.


That turned out to be the right decision on their part, since somewhere near the marker for Drum Point, the wind died.  This was during the Wednesday night races in the river which I was concerned I would interfere with, but that certainly didn’t happen.  I did try to change direction and sail back but to no avail, so I lowered the sails, closed almost everything up and motored about 30 minutes back in.  When I got there, Bay Break had already been tied up.


I wonder how he knew when to turn back?


Engine                         30 minutes

Sails                             Full, starting with one reef

Chop/ current              Mild

Wind                           Light, then none

Time                            4 hours

Necessity is the Mother….

July 3,2016


The marina wasn’t so much fun today, since the wind was non-existent.  So, the sailing itself just wasn’t going to happen.  But that wasn’t exactly the focus of today anyway.  I read with interest an article in Small Craft Advisor about a do-it-yourself Tiller Tamer.  Given that I’ve been using a surgical cord and rope self-steering device for four years, I was never likely to buy a Tiller Tamer or the one I prefer, the Tiller Clutch.


My original self-steering device was based on the one illustrated in Andrew Evans’ Thoughts, Tips, Techniques & Tactics For Singlehanded Sailing, Third Edition, though my surgical tubing had finally worn out.  I’ve secured new surgical tubing, but the article in Small Craft Advisor. intrigued me.  Instead of having the cord wrapped around the tiller, they employed a jam cleat on the underside of the tiller.  A quick review of West Marine’s website found the device and it is on its way, but I didn’t feel like waiting, so I used the info and picture at this webpage:




to construct a temporary device for the tiller.  It shows a picture of a rather simple and clunky looking double jam cleat that looks a bit like a clothes pin or blocky deck cleat.  It seemed simple enough to make so I gave it a try, using of course all the wrong tools (and probably the wrong techniques as well.)


Here is a picture of the device installed on the tiller with cable ties:

Close up of homemade jamcleatSSee


It’s not pretty, but I remember something my father once said about professional photographers.  He was just getting into photography at that time, and commented to me that unlike amateur photographers, pros may be a bit rougher with their equipment, treating their cameras more as tools than as fragile works of art.  So, I don’t exactly feel bad that my little block doesn’t look that nice.  It seems to work (even though there was only a very slight wind) and I can see how I can make it a bit tighter by changing the location of the knots tying the surgical tubing the regular cord.  I now have a device I can use if I need a backup once I get the jam cleat from West Marine.


Not a bad hour’s work.  Necessity is the Mother, they say….