25 July 2008

Great Salt Lake is Boss (4 of 4)

The GPS first told us we wouldn't reach South Shore Marina until midnight. We were still running with the outboard, so we raised the main, which changed our estimated arrival time to 11:15 pm. Then after raising the genoa, the time would be 10:27 pm.

Winds were out of the northeast. We tried the whisker pole on the genoa, but it wasn't necessary, so we sailed with the main and genoa out at about 40 degrees.

The temperature was coming down nicely, into the mid 70's, and the sunset was beautiful. We each took a turn at the helm, and everyone else milled around on deck or in the cabin. Grandpa , ever the nap master, managed to catch some sleep in the bow pulpit, with on arm looped through the lifeline clutching the stanchion to keep from rolling off the deck.

I went below to store loose items and ready the boat for overnighting in the marina. It was such a peaceful night, the Brine flies weren't around this part of the lake, the air was cooling, and the sailing unparalleled. We wondered about overnighting at anchor in the middle of the lake, but the thought of a sudden storm and no safe harbor kept us on course.

It was dark as we approached the marina, and it was very difficult to see the channel markers against all the shore lights at Kennecott's smelter on the mountain behind the marina. My #2 son headed up on deck with a spotlight to look for any hazard markers in the area.

5 minutes after he went on deck, we picked up a conversation on shore about our spotlight. Someone was wondering if we needed help. I had my gps out and the course back into the channel was clear, so I jumped on the radio and identified our boat and the reason for the spotlight.

A few minutes later the State Park boat approached us (I couldn't see the ranger, I believe it was Dave Shearer, the Harbor Master.) He offered help finding the channel markers.

I was a little embarrassed that he came all the way out for us, but then I realized that here he was, late ona Saturday night, doing everything he could to take care of those of us out on the lake. That was really terrific service, I don't know if I've ever met a more helpful person. He went ahead to each set of buoys and flashed his lights so getting in to the marina was really easy. I'm not sure if the State names an employee of the year, but Dave Shearer definitely gets our votes.

It was a great sail. 68 miles in all. 17 hours of sailing. We'll return tomorrow to pull the boat out and bring her back to Utah Lake, but I bet we'll sneak in a few hours of sailing on Great Salt Lake first...

Misadventure at White Rocks Bay (3 of 4)

As the afternoon sun increased, so did the wind.

Up near Carrington Island in Great Salt Lake, the winds heeled our Catalina 25, the Unsinkable 2, along at almost 7 mph. I remember first learning that most monohull cruising sailboats had theoretical maximum hull speeds somewhere between 5 and 8 miles an hour and thinking, "Wow, that is ridiculously slow." But anyone who has ever been on a sailboat traveling at this speed knows that the feeling is quite remarkable, and feels very fast. (Remember, if you are in a hurry to get some place, stop reading this and choose something besides a sailboat.)

When you feel a 10 - 15 mile per hour wind fill a 25 foot high sail above you, and the boat responds by heeling over 20 degrees, you suddenly feel like you are in the America's Cup. The adrenaline begins pouring through your body and every daily care is driven from your mind as your head fills completely with thoughts about every wave, wind, halyard, sail, and line on your boat. When you finish, you feel like you just finished a 3 day weekend vacation. Your mind is completely relaxed, and you are ready to take on life's problems all over again.

To put more power in the sails, we sat on the windward (high) side of the boat, hanging our feet over the side watching the miles of water slip by 6 feet beneath our feet. As the bow crashed through the waves, the spray covered us in refreshingly cool showers.

The crew was getting hungry, so I went below to cook lunch. I found the alcohol stove completely dry, and could not find more fuel anywhere. Without lunch, we were all getting a little tired, so we decided to head in to White Rock Bay on Antelope Island. We had a raft, and could go ashore and walk up to the gift shop at the state park to try and find some food.

With the depth sounder on, we cautiosly approached White Rock Bay. The water here was shallow, and we had to raise the swing keel and drop the sails as we slowly motored in to the anchorage, a few hundred yards west of White Rock. (See the picture, this rock extends about 15 feet out of the water, and is home to hundreds of birds.)

My #2 son began blowing up the raft, only to find that we didn't have the valve cover for it! Swimming to shore was not an option, because the low water meant we would have to wade - not possible in the mud along the lake bottom. We had lots of freeze dried food (Mountain House is our preferred brand), but no stove to boil water. And then we noticed the solar showers on the deck. They were already at 110 degrees. So we poured water from the solar showers into the food, and waited 15 minutes for it to rehydrate. It was great!

In the bay, we were gradually overcome by Brine Flies. At first there were hundreds of them, and then thousands. #2 started the fight against the Brine Flies, first with bug spray, then with a citronella candle, and finally gave up and took to photographing them. He has a very science-oriented mind, and when we finally returned home researched all kinds of information on Brine Flies. Here are some of the pictures he took of the Brine Flies and dragon flies.

What he learned was that Brine Fly season is between late July and early August. The flies lay eggs on the surface of the water, and then live 3-5 days.

The flies do not bite or sting, they simply land on everything and crawl everywhere. We soon realized that overnighting anywhere near the Brine Flies would result in no one sleeping. For the first 10 minutes you try and brush the flies away, but then you tire, and just let them crawl all over you. Psychologically, it must be like chinese water torture. One night under Brine Fly interrogation and I would have divulged every top secret I knew.

It was now 6pm, and time to discuss options. The Freshwater springs off the shore of Fremont Island were 10 miles to the north. Winds were still out of the north, and the sun would be setting sometime around 9 pm. Under motor, we could reach the springs in 2 hours. Sailing, though normally much faster than motoring, would take longer because we needed to go directly into the wind - a point which we could not sail without tacking.

So we decided to motor north, arrive at 8pm, swim for half an hour, and then raise sails and head for the Antelope Island Marina for the night. It was a great plan, and we were all really proud of how nautical it sounded.

However as we motored north out of White Rock Bay, I remembered the chart showing shallow waters west of Antelope island, so we cut a wide circle around the tip of the island. And then I felt something bump the rudder. And again. Looking at the depth guage, I realized we were in extremely shallow waters. So we immediately cut further west for another mile and a half, still running into shallow water at every attempt to turn north.

It was now 6:30 pm, and I thought about the harbor master's comments that Fremont had claimed more sailboats than any other island on Great Salt Lake. I also remembered what he said in an email about our planned trip,

"My experience has shown that the first time a sailor ventures out on his first long voyage on the Great Salt Lake, she will let you know who is boss and will likely challenge you with blustery winds, challenging seas, and a little lightning for emphasis. If you survive these conditions, return home safely to challenge her again with respect, she will usually treat you kindly and provide an enjoyable experience (as long as you really check your weather charts thoroughly this time.)"

So we had a decision to make - if everything went well, we could make Fremont Island, and then find the Marina in the dark. But if anything went wrong, we'd spend the night out in unsheltered water. No one wanted to quit, but we decided that was the best choice.

So we turned south, and raised sails to cover the 20 miles back to the South Shore Marina.

[Continue to Part 4]

Sailing 68 miles on Great Salt Lake (2 of 4)

The northerly wind meant a long day of tacking, but no one seemed to mind. Although our goal was to reach Fremont Island, some 20 or 30 miles to the north, we were in no hurry. As every sailor has discovered, in a powerboat you may get there faster, but in a sailboat, you are already there.

It was my Dad's first trip on a sailboat, and we all enjoyed watching him learn the ropes. Lesson #1 was that the sails do not steer the boat. A sailboat can sail almost any direction except directly into the wind. The sails create an airfoil shape, actually pushing and pulling the boat along in the wind. The keel converts this force to forward motion, and the rudder provides steering ability.

So Grandpa took the helm and within a few minutes learned the fine art of watching the wind vane to determine wind direction, and listening for the luffing of the sails to determine when the boat was pointed too close to the wind. (When sailing almost directly into the wind, the sails will lose power and begin flapping, or luffing, in the wind. At this point they are not providing forward momentum.) He was a natural, and guided the boat along many, many miles of our voyage.

We took very long tacks, and turns at the helm, which left plenty of time to site and talk or even take naps as the boat sailed quietly, quickly along in the sun.

This was our first trip with the new Bimini, and the shade was terrific. The Bimini is 6' long - as long as it can be without running into the boom sheets at the aft or the cockpit. To shade the helmsman, we attached a large towel to the bimini and stern pulpit.

The temperature in Salt Lake City today was 100 degrees, but out on the water it was 10 degrees cooler, thanks to the cooling effect of the wind on the water.

After coming with 2 miles of Stansbury Island, we tacked and headed back towards Antelope island. I'd been told that the wind could likely completely die off sometime between late morning and early afternoon, however we were fortunate, and the wind kept blowing throughout the day. It certainly slowed for a few hours, but we still averaged about 4 1/2 miles an hour most of the day.

(I'm quite certain that the long tacks were not the most efficient method of sailing. I need to learn more about sail trim and calculating the optimal length of tacks and angles when sailing into the wind. But that will come with time.)

We reached Antelope Island's Split Rocks bay, and then turned westward again. The wind had shifted slightly, so we sailed toward Carrington Island, north of Stansbury Island.

The greatest challenge of the day confronted my eldest son, who at some point on this tack lost cell phone reception. It was truly devastating, because he could no longer receive text messages from his friends. (Why doesn't AT&T put cell towers on the (uninhabited) Great Salt Lake islands...) He was not to be outdone however, and kept trying throughout the day. Here is a picture of a pose he mastered. Laying on his back, he could doze while keeping an eye on the windvane and with his free hand, occasionally check for reception. Incidentally, he holds a Basic Keelboat ASA certification, although this particular feat ought to earn him an honorary Helmsman's Technical Communications ASA certification, if such a thing becomes available.
[Continue to Part 3]

Long Voyage on Great Salt Lake (1 of 4)

"Great Salt Lake will show you who is boss" came the wise advice of Dave Shearer, harbormaster at Great Salt Lake's South Shore Marina. I had asked Dave for his advice regarding a trip my 2 oldest sons, my father, and I had planned to circumnavigate Fremont Island, the 4th largest island in Great Salt Lake.

One of my life's goals is to sail to Fremont Island in Great Salt Lake. Fremont is relatively barren. However, there is a freshwater spring that rises 100 + yards off its west shore in the middle of the salt water. Sailors who have traveled this far north report being able to anchor in the water above the spring, and experience the rare sensation of swimming in fresh water in the middle of salt water!
So we made plans for a 2 day trip in late July to circumnavigate Fremont Island.
We reached I-Dock, Slip #3 at the South Shore Marina at 6am on Friday. The docks are covered with massive spiders this time of year. And although I've never heard of sailor being dragged off the docks by the spiders, you certainly wonder if it is possible.

We loaded the boat with our sleeping bags and 2 coolers full of ice and cold drinks. The secret to staying well-hydrated in the 100+ degree afternoons is a wide variety of juices, sports drinks, and water.

My Dad and #1 son ran a hose from the dock to the water intake on the boat, and my #2 son watched below to tell them when the tank was full. We planned to swim in the afternoon to cool off, so we filled a couple of solar showers and strapped them to the deck to heat up in the sun.

Swimming in Great Salt Lake leaves you very salty, which is not a comfortable way to stay. The solar showers work well, by afternoon they reached 110 degrees, and could be easily hoisted on the forestay for a quick rinse on the foredeck.
I ran down to C-Dock to borrow a nav chart from my Father in law's old boat (my first sailboat), and then we were ready to set sail.
The sunrise was absolutely magical, with pillowy white clouds overhead reflecting in the blue water. We motored quietly past the sleeping sailboats and out into the deep water channel. Flocks of seagulls floated in the still water, and gracefully lifted off in flight to get out of our way as we headed for the outer channel markers.

Even with a 5 - 10 mile per hour wind, Great Salt Lake waters remain as flat as a mirror. I assume this is due to the heaviness of the water, which is many times heavier than sea water. The stillness of the water makes it feel like you are sailing on a large mirror, with every cloud or star in the sky reflected below your boat.
Morning winds were light, but with the genoa we easily made 4.5 miles an hour as we sailed north on the southerly breeze. After half an hour, the wind shifted eastward, so we adjusted sails and continued north.

Eventually the winds shifted northward, and would stay that way through the day. At that point we opted for a westerly tack out toward Stansbury Island, about 10 miles to the west of us. (See map below for reference.)

Great Salt Lake gets an undeserved reputation for being a 'stinky' lake. The problem occurs a few times in late summer when large amounts of brine flies lay eggs on the surface of the water and live for only a few days. When all the brine fly remains wash up on the shores, it rots, and winds blow the smell into neighboring towns. The great secret is that even during those brief periods, the smell is only noticeable within a few hundred yards of the shore. Once out on the water, the smell disappears and the air, humidity, and smell are idyllic.

See map below of Great Salt Lake. The South Shore Marina is labeled Boat Harbor on the south edge of the lake. [Continue to Part Two]

24 July 2008

Trailer Launch a Sailboat in Shallow Water

My goal tonight was to put the Unsinkable2, our Catalina 25 Sailboat, in to Great Salt Lake's South Shore Marina in preparation for tomorrow's sailing trip to Fremont Island, in the north end of the Great Salt Lake.

I arrived at the marina at 5:30 pm, and quickly raised the mast with the help of Ray Bennett. I had launched a smaller sailboat at this marina 2 years ago when the water was higher, and at that time I had to drop my back wheels down into the salty water to launch the boat.

This time I was better prepared. Or at least I thought I was.

Here is a picture of the trailer launching procedure (from a different lake). If you are reading this for the sheer thrill of vicarious entertainment, read on. If you are interested in how I trailer launch the boat, skip to the 7 step explanation at end of this post.)

I mounted a spare tire holder with a rolling wheel hub on it. I also mounted a jack with a long (30") rise on it. The jack lifts the trailer off the vehicle hitch, and then lowers it all the way to the ground so the front of the trailer rests on the rolling spare tire.

Well, in the past this has always worked for me. This time, it did not.
When I backed down into Great Salt Lake, the trailer ran into some debris and stopped with the boat still completely out of the water. I assumed it was the bottom of the ramp, and we would not be able to trailer launch.

We stood there on the ramp, puzzling over the predicament, as dozens of tourists snapped pictures and video from the shore. That's when the tourist arrived.

I suppose he couldn't contain himself, standing there watching me in my idiocy on the shore, so he descended to share with us a very little-thought-through solution to the problem.

So the tourist approaches and explains his solution. "Monsieur, pardon moi for interrupting, but I sink I hev zee solution to your problem. If you feed zee rope through a pipe about 20 meters long, zen you could push zee boat in zee water, and launch your ship." And he stood there, waiting for me to act on his battle plan.


"What?!" I thought, "Could you back up the part in the plan where I push the rope through the 20 meter long pipe? I think I missed the part where you told me where the 20 meter long pipe came from..."

And then Pahoe arrived. Pahoe lives out at the marina and I am quite certain knows more about boats than anyone. He said he helped launch a Catalin 25 fixed keel (4' draft) last week, and that we would easily be able to launch our Catalina 25 swing keel. He had me pull the boat half way up the ramp, then add another 50' of rope to the 20' I already had.

Then the scary part. He explained that the trailer needed more momentum, so I needed to release the brake and let the trailer roll back to the water as fast as it could go. I was scared to death. What if it tipped? What if I couldn't stop it and it pulled the suburban into the water?
But something about a resident mariner inspires confidence, so I followed his advice. As I started to back the trailer down, I kept a light foot on the brake, and Pahoe started yelling, "No brakes! No brakes! Just let it roll!!" So I did.

The trailer hit the water with an enormous splash. The Japanese tourists lined up along the ramp snapped picture after picture. The flashes were giving me a sunburn. No doubt they were all hoping to enter them in "Japan's Funniest Home Videos" for a chance to win 100,000 Yen. But Pahoe's experience won out. The trailer bounced unnervingly under the water, and eventually came to settle some 40' out in the water, obviously floating!

Next, I swam out to the boat, and detached the cable connecting the trailer and bowhook. To my surprise, the trailer suddenly disappeared out of site. The trailer had been floating under the boat! So when I detached it, the trailer sank to the lake bottom, and was easily pulled out with the tow line.

Covered in salty brine, I hosed the trailer off at the wash station and rinsed the salt off me too, then we went down to the dock to spend the evening sailing.

The winds were light and the sunset fantastic that night. We flew the 150 genoa with a whisker pole, cruising along in the still water at about 5 miles an hour. See the picture of my brother in law Matt (at the mast) and me (behind the boom) as we sailed wing and wing along Great Salt Lake.

My #5 and #6 kids were along for the trip, and enjoyed playing in the cabin and snacking on strawberries as we sailed. Grandpa Ray enjoys pampering the kids, and they really like it. See the picture of Grandpa Ray with the kids.

We returned to the marina at about 11:30pm. Tired, but very relaxed after a nice night on the lake. The sunset was great, it almost looks fake. Sunsets on Great Salt Lake are always terrific. When the first explorers reached its eastern shore, they mistakenly assumed they had reached the Pacific Ocean, and turned to head east again. To the west of the lake is a great expanse of empty desert, which results in the most fantastic sunsets. Here is a picture of me and my wife in the setting sun that night.

And without further ado, here is the process. (First the disclaimer: This is the process I use, I've put it here for reference, but I certainly do not guarantee that it will work, and I assume no risk. Launching a 5,000 lbs boat in shallow water combined with the inescapable laws of physics and murphy mean that lots can and will go wrong. There is risk inherent in trailer launching that this is not intended to address or mitigate.)

1) Back the vehicle down to the edge of the water, and block the rear wheels. (On a dual axle trailer, block the front wheels because when you tip the trailer forward, the rear wheels may rise off the ground.)

2) Raise the trailer off the vehicle hitch using the jack.

3) Attach a tow chain or rope from the vehicle hitch to the trailer, and pull the vehicle up the ramp until the chain is taught. I stay totally clear of the chain at this point because if it were to snap, it would whip back and likely dismember whomever it came in contact with. I also stay clear of the are behind the trailer in case something slipped and the boat decided to make an unplanned entry into the water...

4) Using the jack, lower the trailer until the front of the trailer is riding on the rolling spare tire, and the jack foot is well off the ground.

5) Pull the vehicle forward to take the pressure off the chocks, and remove them.

6) Back the trailer down into the water until it is far enough in to float the boat off.

7) When the boat is clear, pull the trailer out, and hitch it back up to the vehicle.

And just in case you missed my earlier warning, I do not intend this as safety instruction or the proper method of launching. Use a hoist. Think about some of the things that could go wrong: rope breaks and you lose trailer, rope snaps and cuts you in half, trailer tips and spills boat, trailer tips and spills boat on you, trailer gets stuck in mud permanently, you can't get trailer in deep enough to get boat out, chocks fail on ramp and you lose boat, people in car get sucked into water and can't get out, etc. etc. Ok, now I feel like I have done due diligence with this disclaimer...

19 July 2008

Provo Marina to Lincoln Marina Overnighter

We left around 7pm and sailed to Lincoln Marina. We just had kids 5 and 6 with us. The winds were pretty strong, and the waves 2-3 feet. Under main sail alone, we made about 5 1/2 mph.
We'd never been so far south in the lake, so I cut a very wide circle around Bird island.

As we approached Lincoln Marina, a state park boat came out and checked on us to see if we needed help. The GPS coordinates I had for the Lincoln Marina channel were incorrect (but close.) Fortunately I had my cell phone with me, which had a GPS on it along with access to download google satellite images. So i pulled out the phone, and used it to navigate straight into the narrow channel. Awesome technology!

As we tied up to the dock, a low profile ski boat headed out of the marina, loaded with 4 fairly oversized fishermen. We warned them about the waves, but out they went. 5 minutes later they were back, one guy commenting colorfully, "I've never vomited so much in my life." They said they were scared to death, and were just hoping to get back in to the marina without being swamped.

The marina was nice for being so remote. Nice bathrooms in the neighboring campsite. We burned a citronella candle in the cockpit, which did a great job keeping the bugs away.

The next morning I was up early, so I motored out of the marina and set sail for an hour before anyone woke up. Nice winds, easy sailing.

I still want to sail down to the southwest corner of the lake, and investigate the large orchards near the south shore. How there is so much green on such a deserted hill intrigues me...