03 June 2008

Sailing Lake Mead Day 4 of 4

My least favorite part of any trip is the last night.  I find myself tempted to thing about the following day being the end of the trip.  So I am careful not to spend time thinking about it.  Instead of starting to clean things up the last night of the trip, I get up early the next morning.  That way I get maximum enjoyment out of the last night.The boat has been fantastic.  With the exception of the first night, all 8 members of our family have slept on the boat.  The reason for that was the arrival of a brazen California King Snake in camp on the second day.  Suddenly, the boat seemed much safer than the tents...

There weren't many bugs until the last night on the lake.  We found a great solution though. 
 We lit a couple of tiki torches and put them in the water next to the boat.  The burning citronella was enough to keep all the bugs away and 
give us another perfect night under the stars.  The
 picture at left is a night shot of the two tiki torches accompanied by a light show of glow sticks.  

The most useful tool on the entire trip was a bag of clothespins, which we used  to hang towels and other items on the lifelines.  I'm not sure how we would have made it without them.  They are permanent equipment on the boat now.

On the last morning, we got up early to clean up the camping gear before the sun got too hot.  A few tips for next year: don't bring tents, just sleep in the boat, and bury the coolers in the sand to make the ice last longer.

We knew that getting back on the trailer would be difficult with the weight of all that g
ear, so we loaded heavy items in places where we could quickly remove them at the dock before trailering the boat.

The sail back to Echo Ma
rina was the best of the trip.  Heading into the wind, we took long tacks across Overton Arm, averaging about 6 knots.  The crew was tired from the sun, so they rested in the cockpit covered with towels to stay cool.  At about 20 minutes across Overton Arm, the length of each tack was just long enough to allow for a good rest and conve
rsation before everyone had to shift again.

Eventually my brother caught up in his power boat, and the kids were ready for a refreshin
g ride on the huge tube.  As he pulled alongside, we debated about the best way to transfer passengers back and forth.  Earlier we had tried rafting up, but the difference in freeboard, combined with the small waves, made the difficult.  The kids found a good solution though - just yell 'Abandon Ship' and jump over the side!

The older kids took the first ride on the tube, and really enjoyed it.  But then came the challenge of getting the younger kids over.  We sailed several circles around the powerboat as we debated the exchange of prisoners - er - passengers.  Finally we decided to heave the tube's tow line from the powerboat to the sailboat, and we would just pull it in close, load the kids on, and then heav the line back.  

It was a great plan, really.  Except that it took longer than we expected so we had to sail a couple of circles around the powerboat while towing the tube.  It was like a giant sea anchor!  When the kids got on, they all started laughing.  We were still making about 5 knots towing the tube!  The enjoyed the ride, and we made several circles around the powerboat just for the novelty of towing skiers behind a sailboat.

At that point, my wife and I were alone on the sailboat.  Wow.  That never happens - life is so full of kids!  We enjoyed about 20 minutes of couple sailing, realizing that a Catalina 25 - though capable of sailing a crew of 8 - is really more roomy when the crew is only 2.  We didn't want the trip to be over, and decided that this was going to be an annual excursion for our family.  With a working outboard next year, we might even be able to extend the trip by a day or two because we could easily get in and out of the marina for more ice, and maybe even an afternoon trip to the air conditioned marina store for ice cream.

Eventually we took our shipmates back on board, and continued sailing toward the marina.  My brother mentioned at this point that he was almost out of gas.  He went ahead to look for the marina opening and planned to wait there for us to arrive for a tow in (our outboard was still not working.)  

He was only about a mile away, and nowhere near the marina, when we noticed his boat stop.  There was quite a bit of commotion on board, and we realized he might be out of gas!  So we set sail for his boat, and sure enough, out of gas!  We debated for a few moments about  what to do.  Tow the powerboat in with the sailboat?  Anchor the boat, and sail to the marina for gas?  It was getting a little scary, because we were steadily being blown onto a lee shore, and in water too deep to anchor.  

Then we remembered that my outboard's gas can was still completely full.  So we transfered the gas from the gas can to his boat, and headed for the marina.  We only had 3 gallons of gas, which on a sailboat will get you through an entire month, but on a powerboat, not quite so long...  But the disaster was averted, and we began stowing sails and gear for trailering as we headed into the marina.

Wow, that launch ramp was hot.  Next year we'll plan to end and start the trip a little differently.  I'd like more time to launch and retrieve the boat without everyone having to wait.  Mayb we'll plan to launch early in the morning or later in the evening, and stay the night at the hotel near the marina.

We headed back through Mesquite, where we decided to stop for the casino buffets and showers that night.  What a fantastic trip.  

02 June 2008

Sailing Lake Mead Day 3 of 4

Buddy-boating with my brother's powerboat caused me some anxiety. My foremost worry was that my crew (my kids) would decide they prefered power boating, mutiny, and be reluctant to come sailing in the future. Before the trip, one of my astute offspring commented, "Dad, how come you like slow stuff? Sailing is slower than speedboats, hiking is slower than owning a 4 wheeler, and camping just seems slower than staying in hotels."

But I was pleasantly surprised in the end. The kids absolutely loved knee boarding, riding the tube, and wakeboarding. But on the last day as we sailed 2 hours back to the marina, they all decided they preferred owning a sailboat to a powerboat. But they were also quick to point out that we needed to go out on a powerboat a couple times a year just because it was really, really fun.

Personally, I prefer sailing for a couple reasons. When our family sails, everyone can participate. My 14 year old mans the jib sheets for tacking and is learning to operate the outboard for negotiating our marina. My 12 year old takes all duties forward the mast. He raises the jib, rigs the whisker pole, stows the foresail, and during docking is the first one on and off the boat to retrieve docking lines. My 10 year old has proclaimed herself 'Winch Wench' - the person responsible for raising and lowering the swing keel. We must raise the keel going in and out of the slip, and she will frequently jump below during a trip to tinker with the keel winch in order to quiet the cable hum. The 6 and 8 year olds are the Fender Men - and there are no fenders in the world deployed with a greater air of sophistication and advanced seamanship than are our fenders by those two fine mariners. And my 3 year old is responsible for dishing out the ginger snaps and drinks to the entire crew whenever she feels nourishment is needed.
I also enjoy sailing because it so completely occupies one's mind as to leave to room for thoughts about work, daily stresses, or anything but wind, canvas, and family.

My brother on the other hand prefers the excitement of speed. So everyone has a great time as you can clearly see from the pictures! The kids really enjoyed being towed around in two shifts. The older kid shift involved a very fast boat trying to flip as many kids into the water at once as possible. The younger kids risked life and limb by surfing on the tube at a breakneck pace of 5 miles an hour. Thrill seekers.

01 June 2008

Sailing Lake Mead Day 2 of 4

Beach camping was something new to us. Our family backpacks together and has camped often, but camping on a beach is very different. Between our 2 families we had 3 sleeping tents, 3 shade tents, and one tent for the porta potti. Spread out around the top of the cove, we named it Tent City.

The morning air was perfect, I went down to the water for a short swim and then worked on breakfast. Slowly the kids emerged from their beds. The two older boys slept on Unsinkable 2, and the rest slept in the tent. With a few non-swimming younger kids among us, we decided to rig a line stern to stern on the boats, so if the kids drifted out that far in their life jackets they could simply pull themselves over to shore.

Anchoring a boat on shore at Lake Mead was quite a challenge. Although the water was 2-5 feet deep in the top of the cove, if I wanted to drop an anchor I would have to go out a little ways to allow for anchor swing, and the water quickly dropped to 50 or 75 feet deep!

The water level dropped about 6 inches per day while we were there. This has been a good water year for the mountains, however Lake Powell is upstream from Lake Mead, and apparently Lake Powell managers are letting it fill first before they share excess water with Lake Mead. The dropping water level did not cause much problem, the kids just moved their sand castles further out each morning, and we had to lengthen our shore anchor lines each night when we called it quits.

The kids built an enormous sand castle - actually a sand city. They named the town "Jacobugath" after the ancient city in the Americas that was destroyed by flooding. The kids included a large reservoir at the top of the hill above the city, which they breached for the fun of watching the city flood. The city contained numerous walls and towers, all lined with seashells and fortified with the best mud they could manufacture.

[On to Day 3...]

Sailing Lake Mead: Day 1 of 4

(Note - click on pictures to view full-sized versions,  than BACK to return to blog.)

We spent several days sailing on Lake Mead, and it was easily one of the best vacations I have ever had. I forced myself to leave the cell phone in the car (not that I would expect to get coverage in the remote canyons of Lake Mead) and let myself get totally lost in family, wind, sails, and that incredibly blue water.

We ran into a bit of trouble launching the boat. Loaded down with several days' camping gear, our Catalina 25 probably weighed several hundred pounds more than usual, and when you add our crew of 8 hearty sailors, well, let's just say we wet a new Plimsoll line.

The water was fairly low at the Echo Bay Marina, and the prop wash from all the power boats left odd ruts that prevented us from getting the trailer deep enough. So I fired up the outboard to pull the boat back. About that time I realized that water was not draining from the motor, which meant the engine wasn't cooling properly.

Great start to a vacation!

With my 14 year old son in the water (that disrespectful boy grew taller than me this year), and my younger brother (that disrespectful boy outgrew me 20 years ago) we were finally able to shove the boat off the trailer.

Now there is a narrow channel leading from the boat ramp to the open waters of Overton Arm, and most of the time the wind blows straight from Overton Arm right up the boat ramp. So heading out of the marina under sail would have required some very rapid tacking, which would have been too stressful for us having already had a bad start. So we opted to have my brother tow us out into the Arm with his very impressive ski boat.

Once in the channel, we stowed the towing line, raised the main and jib, and cut along to the north at a steady 6 knots. We were running (sailing downwind), and when we deployed the whisker pole to hold the jib out, we picked up an additional knot.

The wind quickly blew the launch stress away and within about 10 minutes everyone was relaxed and happy. My brother had zipped ahead out of site to reconnoiter the coves and bays in search of a campsite, planning to radio us with the location.

The sails required little adjusting, just a hand on the tiller to keep the wind astern. All 6 kids really enjoyed the sailing that day. The youngest three (ages 3, 6, and 8) went below and discovered the Costco-sized jar of ginger snaps. I told them that the ginger snaps were to prevent sea sickness, which I mistakenly assumed meant 'save them for later. Suddenly all three began feeling a little queasy and desperately needed ginger snaps. I think they were faking it. Next time I'll fill the Ginger Snaps jar with onions, and tell them they are only for preventing scurvy...
The middle two, ages 1o and 12, went up onto the foredeck and rested in the shade of the jib as we cruised along. My wife, oldest son and I sat in the cockpit. I was thinking about the outboard, wondering if it would be fixable for use on the rest of the trip. My oldest son (14) was trying to adjust to life without texting. And my wife was buried in Stephenie Meyers' "New Moon", a book she picked up at Wal-Mart on the way down.

About an hour later, my sister-in-law showed up in the ski boat and gave us a description of where the cove was, and asked if we wanted a tow. But the sailing was so great, I secretly hoped the cove was still several hours away. Within half an hour we entered the bay where our campsite would be. As we got closer, we realized that the wind was blowing directly out of the narrow cove we needed to sail into. The cove was about 100 yards wide at the mouth and perhaps 300 yards long.

I hollered to the crew on the foredeck to stow the whisker pole and make ready for some fast tacking. My oldest son readied the jib sheets, and I took the helm.

Our first tack was a little rough, but we left plenty of room to 'bail out' if needed before we hit the shore. The second tack was much smoother, and by the third tack, we all felt like we were ready to take away Larry Ellison's BMW sponsorship in the next America's Cup.

We gained about 25' with every tack, slowly approaching the shore at the end of the cove. I believe the most difficult job belonged to my 10 year old daughter, self-proclaimed "Winch Wench", with an uncanny feel for how much swing keel cable needs to be taken in as we approach the beach to prevent running aground and losing steerageway in the narrowing cove.

I don't know how long the tacking lasted, I just know that we all enjoyed it so much we could have tacked another 3 hours and thoroughly enjoyed it. As a Skipper, it was great to see us all building sailing skills. As a Dad, I loved seeing my kids all pulling together and complimenting one another as they proudly performed each task together. There is nothing like sailing to bring a family together.