Building and sailing a Ross Lillistone First Mate and building a John Welsford Long Steps
A week at Ocracoke
In mid September my wife and our parents went down to Ocracoke Island for a week long vacation. We stayed in a cottage on Lighthouse Road and had access to a dock at the southern end of the harbor, so of course I brought my sailboat. It was a pretty windy week, but I did manage to get out on a long daysail.
Heading across the Hatteras Inlet on the ferry Frisco. This one was built in 1990 and must have recently been painted because it was looking pretty good. Along the way we passed the Ocracoke which was built at the same time and it was looking really rough, kinda had the HMS Hermes returning from the Falklands vibe.
September 19th, 2021
Getting everything rigged at the boat ramp. This is were I first launched the boat on a vacation in 2019. I was still mounting deck hardware the night before we left and I didn’t even have time to test it out. Thankfully I’m much better prepared this time.
Sailing around to the entrance of Silver Lake. Apparently this harbor was just a shallow creek when Blackbeard was here in the 1700’s and it was later dredged out during the 1930’s and again during WWII.
Our cottage provided dock space at the southern end of the harbor. I need to improve my docking setup… I rarely dock so it’s always a bit of an afterthought. The cleats on the quarters are fairly small since they usually only hold the sheet traveler.
September 21st, 2021
Tuesday looked like it’d be the best day for sailing of our trip, so I planned out a 30 mile trip to Hatteras for lunch. Then I’d return through the ferry channel and land at a beach off Prong Road on the sound side near the ferry docks. Then my folks could pick me up with the trailer and take me back to the village. The wind was forecast to be from the south east, but it ended up being more from the east, so I didn’t quite make it! I ended up going 41.6 miles to nowhere in 8.5 hours.
I had a nice wind blowing away from the dock, so I wrapped the painter around a pile, cleated it off, and drifted out a bit to raise the sails. After I let the painter go I made a few laps around the harbor while the 7:30am ferry to Swan Quarter got going.
Didn’t want to try squeezing through the entrance with him!
Once outside the protection of the harbor I found the wind a bit too strong so I hove to and put in a reef. This was the first time I’ve reefed on the water and it worked pretty well. It might be a different story if the waves were bigger, but I’m pretty pleased with my method of reefing a spritsail.
While I was hove to I drifted towards Howard’s Reef and due to the angle of the wind I couldn’t make my planned route. While I was considering my options it got pretty shallow and my rudder popped up into barn door mode. I saw some piling which I thought might be a bit of a channel, so I decided to see if I could sail over the sandbar and into the Pamlico Sound. I could always turn around and head out on a run and go around the spoil island.
I drifted north about a third of a mile while tying in the reef and there was a bit of off roading required to get over the sandbar.
I had to pull the boat through 2″ of water for about 200 yards. I removed my drybag, bilge pump, and battery but it didn’t seem to do much. It also didn’t help that the tide was falling. I kept reminding myself that the Greeks managed to pull triremes across the Isthmus of Corinth along the Diolkos and eventually I made it through to deeper water.
I spent 3.75 hours pounding upwind at 5 mph. There were some big waves at times, but nothing too scary. I decided to abandon my attempt to reach Hatteras for a few reasons, although I probably could have made it. Through some vague texts and a garbled phone call I got the incorrect impression that my parents wouldn’t be able to pick me up at the point, but the main reason was a small craft advisory was set to start at 5pm and I wanted to be off the water well before then.
So I turned around and started back on a broad reach. For two hours this was a really fun ride at 6 mph. I’ve finally figured out a good way to store my oars and keep them from rolling around. I drilled a hole through the deck carlin and semi bulkhead to rig up a loop of line that I slide the blade of the oars through. Really simple and works well.
As the village came into view the temperature dropped and the wind picked up. I averaged 7 mph and even with the reefed main I needed to hook a foot under the thwart and hike hard.
Once I got to the spoil island at the end of Howard’s Reef I hit the roughest conditions I’ve ever been in. The wind was howling and waves were popping up in a random frenzy with no pattern that I could see. At one point the bow punched through a big one and my coaming did little to help. For about 10 minutes I averaged 8 mph with a few bursts above 9. Lots of hiking and letting the sail luff.
By now the wind had shifted to the south east so I had to tack my way in. The first leg after the spoil island was pretty rough, probably because I was right on top of a shallow area. About halfway to the harbor I felt like I was able to breathe again.
Finally lined up with the entrance to the harbor. The current through here was incredible… I had to point 10º to leeward just to go straight which felt completely wrong.
I only recently found these graphs on NOAA’s website, and it predicts about a 1.75 knot current in exactly the direction I was being carried.
As I was coming in my lovely wife snapped a picture as I passed the schooner Windfall II heading out on their daily sunset cruise.
The main has some wrinkles that I wasn’t quite able to get out, but overall I’m pretty pleased with how it sets reefed. I added a part to my snotter tackle, so I can now tension the sail from the cockpit. Previously I needed to go forward and sweat the line. It does add some complication to the setup but the adjustment is worth it.
Here’s how I usually approach a dock. First take down the jib and stuff it along the port side of the centerboard case. Then scandalize the main to reduce power. Get yourself pointed into the wind again and then take it all down, keeping the heel of the sprit off the deck. The sprit will project forward a few feet of the bow if you don’t loosen the peak pendant, but that’s ok. I tie the sprit to the mast with some light line to keep it from rolling off the deck. And I try to do as little of the large picture as possible.
September 23rd, 2021
On Thursday I woke up at 6am to roaring wind and tons of rain. According to Windy it was 25 mph with gusts up to 30. I drove down to the dock to make sure everything was still ok but by the time I got there the squall was through and the rain had stopped.
The boat was still there and my bilge pump seemed to be working. It leaves a fair amount of water in the bottom since there’s no real bilge and there’s quite a head of water in the hose going over the gunnel, but it kept the water low enough that it didn’t seep through the inspection hatch on the front of the sternsheets. I plan to get rid of that hatch this winter and put a big rectangular one under the tiller. Should be more useful and I don’t sit there anyway.
I forgot to bring some bolts to attach the bilge pump wires, so I whittled a point onto some sticks and wedged the wires in place. I figure wet weather will just improve the connection as the wood swells!
September 25th, 2021
Saturday morning it was time to head home and my mom and mother in law wanted a ride. Unfortunately the wind was blowing me onto the dock and it was just too crowded. I’m beginning to think the First Mate is really a one person boat, at least with inexperienced passengers. You know, building a bigger boat would be one way to fix this problem…
Sailing wasn’t going to work, so I rowed the .8 miles to the boat ramp. Just as I rounded the corner and entered “the ditch” I saw the Swan Quarter ferry in the distance. I picked up the pace and we snuck out a few minutes before it came through.
Approaching the boat ramp, it was upwind the whole way. Then it was time to pack it up and head home.