Category Archives: Gary Articles

Sitting in the cockpit

Sitting in the cockpit, I grab the three quarter inch Dacron Genoa sheet to keep from rolling off the seat.  When a puff hits, the force is so great  I can literally feel the huge line stretch and thin in the palm of my hand.rough seas

We are twenty miles off Fort Meyers beach on the first day of Country Dancers trip around the world.  And what a first day it has been!  As I write this, it is midnight and dark as sin,  no moon and the only horizon is the faint glow from Ft Meyers. Before dark, we could see the huge waves that were sliding up from behind us and rolling us from ear to ear,  but now they simply strike, and we hold on.  Jodi is trying to get some sleep on the other seat in the cockpit,and Rio is cuddled in my lap. He doesnt like rolling around either.

This weather was supposed to let up some by now, but I have seen our speed hit 9.6kts and then a minute or two later, 9.7.  For a boat that needs all of her 75 turbocharged diesel horsepower to reach 8.5kts, just think how much force is being generated by those sails, and transferred by a braided piece of dacron line.  And this is with two reefs in the main and only enough jib out to keep us from broaching in the rollers.   Even so, we are booming through the pitch black night like a freight train with no brakes.

Did I mention the waves….
As we rattle around the cockpit, my head is about 8 feet above the ocean.  Many of the waves hitting us block out the horizon as they pass, meaning they are more than 8ft high. Nasty, steep waves.  The kind that roll under you swinging the bow to the left and then pitching it back to the right just in time for the next nasty to grab you and start the sickening wallow again.

We are about five degrees off course, but I will correct for this at daybreak when I can at least see the sails.

Well we needed a shake down befor crossing the Atlantic.  If Dancer can hold together for tonight, she might just be ready for the crossing.

Warp Factor nine Mr. Solo!

Summary:  Slip 37, ABC marina, Maderia Beach to anchor drop in Key West
203 miles and 32hours. Leg one complete. The video does not do this one justice.

Snot Bombs

Snot bombs!snot bombs

Don’t gross out yet, it’s not what you think.

When we decided to buy a new mainsail, the first decision was whether to replace the existing in-mast furling main or go to another system.
The in-mast system was very popular ten years ago when Country Dancer was built.  It is reasonably priced when ordered on a new boat, and furls the sail on a vertical aluminum extrusion very much like the tried and proven head sail furling systems.  This allows for ultimate flexibility in furling or reefing the sail to any size needed, and since all the lines are lead to the cockpit, you don’t need to go on deck to deploy, reef, or stow the main.  The sail cover is a simple canvas wrap that encloses the sail in the bottom of the mast.  A nice, simple and effective sail handling system.

Except….  To make the in-mast main work, it has to be made of somewhat lighter cloth or it will not fit through the slot in the back of the mast.  This lighter cloth is more susceptible to stretch, and ages poorly.  The sail is also cut  with “hollow” down the leach, or aft side. Cutting it this way puts more tension on the back edge to help hold it out against the wind.  Alas, this reduces the area of the sail by about 10% and most of that is at the top where the size is most needed.  Conventional sails use battens, fiberglass slats or rods sewn in pockets, to help hold the leach out, but since these cant be rolled into the mast, the aft edge of this sail is completely unsupported.
Well it is a great system and if you don’t mind replacing your main every few years it workers pretty well, but the racer in me just had never been happy with the lousy shape that our sail gave.  We heeled way to much, and went way to slow.

Then one day Jodi went to Catalina to see some of their surplus stuff, and Ken mentioned that they had 2 full batten mains for a good price.   Salvation was in sight. I could get a “real” sail on the cheap.  It turned out that cheap was only about $400 less than a custom main from Mack sails, but the ball was rolling.  A few weeks later I ordered a full batten main, lazy jacks and ” Mack Pack” cover from Mack Sails in Stuart.sails

I am going to leave out the part about having to re-cut the sail to fit over our Bimini and solar cells and just say….what a GREAT sail.  I feel like I am home again. We point, that is sail very close to the eye of the wind, and reach, going with the wind to our side, like a real sailboat.  I lead the two reefing lines back to the cockpit, so shortening sail in a blow is not that big of a deal.

We really hadn’t sailed the new sail much before leaving on leg one of our trip, so getting to key west held a few new experience for us.  But man did we go FAST.  We saw over 9kts on a few occasions and went from the dock in Madeira to “anchor down” at Key West in 32hr.  A new record for us.

During the upgrade I had decided to leave the in-mast furling system completely in place, so we could still use it if needed – or desired.  That meant that the extrusion running up inside the mast had to stay in place.  What I didn’t realize was that it was completely unsupported in there and would just rattle around.  The result is the most horrific banging and clanging as every wave pitches the long clanger back and forth in our 65ft tall aluminum bell.  Something had to be done.

In Key West, I decided to go “up the stick” and figure out how to support that darn thing before all the other boats in the anchorage came and kicked us out.  What I decided to do was take a couple of can of spray foam up the mast and squirt it into baggies on both sides of the extrusion inside the mast.  An hour latter these new “snot bombs” were all in place and silence returned to the harbor.  I did have that crap everywhere though.  Imagine if you will, 65 feet in the air, swinging in a bosuns chair, with your fingers manipulating a Baggie through a 1/2 inch slot in the mast when some hot rod fisherman comes by at 25 kts and rolls us a 3ft wake.   It’s  Capt Gary all @@@holes and elbows trying to keep from being launched into Miami with yellow spray snot shooting out and over everything.  “Look out below, snot bombs away.”  But it worked.

We had our first really quiet night since getting the new sail, and silently slipped our lines and left KW the next morning.

Jodi, what was that sound?  It sounded like part of that mast clang again.  Nah…..Yeah.  The snot bombs had worked well at anchor, but it turns out that foam will not cure and get hard in a plastic Baggie.  With every wave more of the spray snot worked its way out of the mast and the gentle tink, tink again became a clang, clang as the mushy Snot Bombs exploded and fell to the bottom of the mast.  By the time we were 5 miles back up the Hawks Channel, I am sure that people on the beach were wondering what was falling apart on that boat “out there.”

So now we are 70 miles away from Jacksonville, and will make our anchorage by about 10:00 PM.  If we don’t get arrested for breaking some noise ordinance tonight, I will be climbing the mast in the morning to replace all of my snot bombs with my next Really Great Idea.  Stay tuned.

To Boldly go….


To Boldly Go…

To boldly go…

Back in the 70’s Gene Roddenberry wrote a TV script about a group of space explorers that became known as “Star Trek.” The theme of that story was “To Boldly go where no man had gone before.”

For years I turned cardboard boxes into “landers” and soap containers into “phasers.” But Gene’s stories did more than excite fantasies and create toys . In some of us it awakened a section of our ancient brain stem that said “just GO”. Gene added the boldly, and a generation like me said we wanted to do just that.

Sadly, space costs a trillion times what I could ever afford, but as a young man I found that a motorcycle could do a pretty good job in a pinch. I traveled all of the Pacific Northwest, and then turned on my “Boldly”, and struck out to cross the US on a motorcycle.

That story still lives in a journal now tucked safely away in one of Country Dancers closets. But it didn’t end the little boys desire to explore. I kept stretching my experiences, learning to fly, traveling cross country several more time, skiing, diving and learning to sail from a few pretty good race boat captains. The dream of “boldly going” was still burning in my guts, but it would take a few more years, and a couple of kids before it would surface again.

Michael was 7 when his mother left us. For a few years, he and I worked on “bold” but it didn’t seem to take. He is a great kid, but what Gene sparked in me just didn’t find the same kindling in my son.

Then my brother introduced me to Jodi. Turns out she was pretty bold too. As a young mother she had lived in a cabin in Minnesota with no running water. Later she got heavily into rodeo, running the cans as a barrel racer, and with her then husband , became instrumental in starting both The Great Northern Rodeo, and the Bear Grease Dog Sled race. But her bold had also gone into a simmer stage until she had recently started dancing competitively. With a good partner, this lead to her winning 3 Worlds Country Dance Championships.

Jodi decided she had danced her turn and knowing I talked a lot about sailing, suggested she would like to retire from dancing and try doing “That”. Suddenly, the deeply buried BOLD came bounding to the front or our lives, and we soon had a 33 foot “pocket cruiser” sailboat. It only seemed right that we named her “Country Dancer.”

Little Dancer, as we refer to her now, was a great little boat, and we sailed her a lot, and everywhere. BOLD was no longer a memory, it had again become a weekly episode for us again as we explored the waters around Florida’s west coast.

If BOLD is really in your guts, you can’t sail very much without wanting to always go further, always go longer, always explore deeper, and the new Jodi & Gary were in full BOLD mode. The decision was made to get a boat big enough, fast enough, and comfortable enough that we could REALLY “go where no….” , well at least where WE had never gone before.

We bought a fairly new and nicely equipped Catalina 470 in 2010. Again there was no question of the name, and “S/V Country Dancer” was properly christened by us and the grand babies. She was destined to take her owners smiling, and spinning around the world to the beat of both Country music and the Caribbean music of Jimmy Buffet. Dancer she would be, and country….how many can we see?

Today is April 2013. BOLDLY is no longer a dream. We have reordered our lives and work so there is no longer a home other than Dancer, and we are sailing up the US east coast as leg one of our journey to Ireland. About June 1 we will enter the Atlantic and follow the Gulf Stream across to the Emerald Isle. From there the plan is the Med, then back to the Caribbean and across to the South Pacific. So long as not too many Klingon’s appear on our scopes, we, like the crew of the Enterprise, will continue our personal human adventure to where ever the wind and the stars can take us.

Dream big, and Go Boldly

The crew of S/V Country Dancer