In Memoriam

I believe God softens the blow of losing a loved one by causing the good memories to bubble to the surface while poor memories tend to fade into oblivion. Jill passed away one year ago today. All I could think about for several weeks was the trauma that surrounded her passing. Gradually that faded away to be replaced by the best moments of our life together.  Everyone remembers certain milestones in their lives that stand out as defining moments. Where we met our future spouse for the first time, the marriage proposal, the wedding, the births of our children, and so on. Make no mistake, they are all memorable moments and will never be forgotten, but there is often another time associated with many, if not all these events that is far more meaningful and memorable. It is those moments that stand out.

Perhaps the most meaningful and poignant occurred after I proposed to Jill one December day.  The proposal was unexpected, even to me. It was Saturday, December 11, 1976, and Sigma Nu’s Winter Formal took place that evening. Jill and I were sitting in the car after walking out of the house and talking. Jill informed me that she and her friend Marlene were going to move to New Orleans because they could get teaching jobs in Louisiana. Jill could get nothing more than periodic substitute teaching days up here and it was not paying the bills. At this point, we had been dating for two years. Even though I had said nothing to Jill, I knew that I wanted to marry her. When she said she was moving to New Orleans, I was thunderstruck. I simply exclaimed that I wanted to get married, which I did, but I was not yet prepared to propose. We were both in tears, sitting there in the car. They were happy tears though, and New Orleans was quickly forgotten.

The next morning, rather than making coffee, I just lay in bed and watched Jill sleep. When she began stirring, I recall nudging her to gently wake her up.

Then I said, “Good morning…”

       Jill mumbled “Do you remember what you said last night?” 

“Of course I do.”

 “Do you still want to get married?”

“More than anything.”

Several days later, Jill told me that she asked if I remembered to give me the opportunity to back out. She knew I was intoxicated when I proposed, and she was offering me a way to semi-gracefully plead ignorance to what I had asked in the car that Saturday evening.

Sunday morning was one of the most joyful, exhilarating, and peaceful moments of our lives. We laid in bed and talked about everything… getting married, our future together, children, and all the little things that suddenly become important when you begin planning a life together. We talked… and talked… and talked. We were constantly interrupting each other as new thoughts and ideas crowded into our heads.

Jill being Jill, she did not want to tell anyone “For at least a couple of months.”  I knew this was horse manure, but I humored her at the time. It was common knowledge by Christmas. Jill almost immediately told her friend Chris, which is akin to a public post on Facebook today. Hunger finally drove us out of bed, but by the time we sat down for lunch we knew what our future looked like. That Sunday was a good day. It was a thrilling day, even 48 years later.

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Launch Day!

Launch day only requires two outcomes in order to be an unqualified success; (1) the boat floats and (2) the engine starts. Everything else is details. By those measures we had a good day on Friday, April 30. I wanted to be in the water in April and we made it with a few hours to spare. It was so windy that when we left the hoist, the wind blew us down the fairway, through a right turn to the fuel dock, another left turn before Brownie’s and then would have blown us out into Lake St. Clair if I had not stuck it in reverse to stop.

Having your boat stored right in the middle of the marine yard operations does tend to encourage getting her launched and out of the way. However, there were several other boats packed around Celtic Cross that were in no rush to get in the water before Memorial Day. To those of you who put your boats in before the 4th of July and pull it out after the Labor Day barbecue, God bless you! Not sure why you do it, but God bless you anyway!

Jefferson Beach Marina handled both winter storage and recommissioning without a hitch.

Now, I can use some crew for a few weekend passages up north. It becomes a very inexpensive weekend on the water for those that may have an interest. Typically I rent an SUV so we all drive up to where Celtic Cross is berthed at the time. We sail for 2-3 days to another destination, close up the boat, I rent another SUV and we all drive home. Nights, with a couple of exceptions, are spent in port. My proposed schedule is shown below.

The ideal size crew is five people on board, although Celtic Cross can be sailed with as few as two people. Quite a few have expressed interest, but it is time to begin putting names with dates. All of these passages remain flexible to a certain extent by shifting a day or two in one direction or another. Give me a call if you have interest.

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On Board Celtic Cross in 2021

April used to be the month when I pulled my wetsuit out and headed for an open water swim in Trout Lake to prep for the American Triple T triathlon. I still remember standing on the shores of Turkey Creek Lake with another 250 shivering triathletes convincing ourselves that the sprinkling of snow on the ground was just temporary and the water will be warmer. Sure it will… Now April is the month when Celtic Cross is once again dropped in the water for another season. MUCH easier to look forward to that! Several projects underway and more coming. For those of you that have sailed with me there are some cosmetic upgrades completed and others underway. The axiom about standing in a cold shower tearing up $100 bills remains true today. Except they are now $1,000 bills.

Where I thought I could work on the electronics this past winter while the boat was shrink-wrapped that thought perished because it was far too cold in January/February to do anything in the cabin even with a portable heater. It is only now getting tolerable to work inside the boat. And while talking about work projects, I do have two immediate one-day projects where I need one other person if anyone is willing to lend a hand. I need help launching the inflatable dinghy and then running the 15hp outboard pretty hard for an hour or so. A warm day and a trip down to Sinbad’s for lunch ought to do it. I also have two 53 ft. rubrail inserts that need to be replaced after I beat the heck out of my rubrails while transiting the Erie Canal last year. Another one-day two-man project on a warm day.

Now for the good stuff! Where are we going to sail this summer? I need to attract a group of people that want to join me for both shorter and longer cruises as I develop a crew to ultimately sail Celtic Cross across the Atlantic to Europe. My first rule of cruising is to have fun! Well, actually my first rule is don’t sink the boat. But my second rule is to have fun! Following is a tentative schedule for the summer. Nothing cast in stone with the idea that as people express interest in a particular passage we will flex the exact dates to accommodate participant plans. Right now the plan is to spend roughly 2-1/2 months cruising in the northern Great Lakes. Divide that up into weekend trips where Celtic Cross will end up in different marinas every couple of weeks. Drive up using rental vehicles as needed and then drive home at the end of each leg. If this proves popular I can certainly add more trips and perhaps even get up into Lake Superior. And if Canada ever opens up, cruising over in the North Channel area and Georgian Bay is almost a must.

Now, from the above schedule we will also have a lot of time for sailing out of Jefferson Beach Marina where Celtic Cross is berthed. Daysailing is fun and almost nothing beats a day out on the water, but sailing big loops on Lake St. Clair can get old after a while. Particularly while Canada still keeps more than half of the lake shut down to access. I will definitely be taking Celtic Cross out just for fun with about anyone interested in going, but the plan is to spend many of these short daysails on skills development for myself and everyone else who joins me. Plan on participating! Plus, it gives us a purpose to being out on the water and provides newbies a chance to learn what is involved with sailing a large boat. To that end, following is a short description of what some of those daysails may involve.

Celtic Cross being lifted up onto dry land for the winter. The twin masts means she just barely fits into Jefferson Beach’s largest travel lift. She will likely spend one more winter up on dry land before heading back out to the Atlantic Ocean sometime in 2022. There are a couple of weeks of work remaining before she can be dropped back into Lake St. Clair.

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2021: The Practice Year

It’s (finally) 2021! Vaccines are here (I’m getting mine tomorrow!) and we can begin to return to some kind of a normal existence. I am already getting really wound up for spring, the return of warm weather, and being able to go anywhere, even though masks may still be part of the uniform of the day.

Perhaps hard to believe, but Celtic Cross will be in the water in a little more than 11 weeks. Once April rolls around, if I don’t know where I’m going this summer, it’s too late! So following is a preliminary sailing schedule for this spring and summer. It looks like I will not be leaving the Great Lakes in 2021. No matter, a sailor could spend years exploring the Great Lakes and many do just that. I’d like to find a group of 8 to 10 people that have the time to sail for 3 to 5 days at a time and willing to learn what is needed to be a valuable part of the crew. Frankly, cost is not a huge factor here because many of the major costs to crew members are covered.

Hugh Vihlen & Fathers Day in 1993

If this looks a little regimented, that’s because it is. Crossing the Atlantic by sail is a campaign that requires a lot of planning, particularly if you are new to bluewater sailing. Now, there are people that have crossed the Atlantic in a bathtub. Or smaller. Not my idea of fun! When I’m off watch I want a comfy berth to stretch out in. Lots of food, hot meals, and the camaraderie of friends makes the passage an adventure, not just getting there to say you did it. There are books written on crew development, although usually focused on race crews and what makes a good crew. Frequently they are talking about professional crews where many, if not all members are paid. That’s not happening here… 😁 This crew is going to be a team with a common goal: Sail across the Atlantic. Really it is going to be a team that loves offshore sailing where teammates stand watches and sail overnight on 2-5 days passages. Each crew member really needs to bring a commitment to learning what is required to become a valuable crew member and have the time available to take off for long weekends or a week-long periods to sail. Frankly, the ultimate goal of a trans-Atlantic crossing may not be possible for everyone. There are really three major segments of the voyage with stops in Bermuda and the Azores that will break up the 4,000 nm, six week long voyage. That creates the possibility of participating in one or two legs if that is all time allows. Flying in or out of either layover island is easy.

Now, it is quite easy for me to get very qualified individuals to sail with me. There are easily a dozen or more websites such as “” where I can interview people just to get me across the Atlantic. Nope. This needs to be a shared adventure with friends that we talk about for years to come. Not with a crew that disappears after we tie up at the dock in Portugal. Plus, once we get to Europe, eventually I need to get Celtic Cross back home again! And by the way, the East to West crossing is often preferred. Boats drop down to the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa and sail on the trade winds across the Atlantic to the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean.

So what am I looking for in a valuable crew member? Commitment and enthusiasm is probably foremost. Next is a sociable and flexible disposition with the ability to get along with others in relatively close quarters for days on end. Let’s face it. Everyone can be friendly and sociable when the sun is shining and you have a fair wind. You find out who you can count on at 03oo hours when it’s dark and raining with the wind blowing at 40 knots and bucking 20 foot seas while you are trying to reef the sails. The third criterium is being in relatively good health and physical condition. A medical emergency while offshore is serious. Even on Lake Huron you can be 40 nm from the nearest land which equates to five hours away in the best of conditions. Coast Guard helicopters definitely help, but it will still be a couple of hours at least to get an injured or sick crew member off the boat and into a hospital emergency room. In the middle of the Atlantic? Forget about immediate help. There are points out there where the nearest land is 1,000 miles away. It is up to you and what is on your boat. A passing ship may provide assistance, but that is not your primary go-to solution. What the heck, I’m not in good enough condition to effect an Atlantic Crossing today. I’ve been something of a couch potato during the pandemic. My own fault, of course, but it left me with a spare tire around the middle and the upper body strength of a wet noodle. That is getting remedied as this is being written. I would expect that crew members adopt a similar attitude towards taking care of their weight and physical conditioning. As a final note on health, seasickness (or the lack thereof) is not a criterion. I think those of you who sailed with me in 2020 will agree that the skipper set the bar for the most barfs over the rail. It comes quite naturally to me and it’s great for weight loss. I also provide cover for anyone else who may feel a little queasy out there.

Now, the fourth criterium is experience. Sailing experience of any kind is very helpful of course, and always welcome. But it is not a prerequisite. Time is on our side in this instance. We will be doing day sails on Lake St. Clair and overnight passages up through the northern Great Lakes in 2021 and into early 2022. During this time we will work on sailing fundamentals. In late 2022 we will sail Celtic Cross out to the Atlantic via the St. Lawrence Seaway and down the Atlantic Coast to somewhere warmer. That will be done in a series of long offshore jumps similar to when we brought Celtic Cross north. All of this provides two years of opportunity to gain experience. That plus taking some online sailing courses should provide the kind of experience required.

What’s the plan for 2021? Sitting here in the middle of January with snow on the ground I can easily come up with, oh, thirty or forty different sailing voyages around the Great Lakes this summer. I just don’t think it will go over real big on the home front if I sail away in early May and return by Labor Day. Thus, dial it back somewhat so that I can sail without having Jill leave me. In addition, there is a local non-profit group dedicated to teaching sailing to youth here in Detroit that I wish to spend some time helping. One of their initiatives for 2021 is to develop a Detroit Community Sailing Center that will provide sailing opportunities not only to our youth, but also to adults who wish to learn to sail. It may provide a good opportunity to learn the fundamentals of sailing from qualified instructors on boats a little smaller than a 53 foot ketch if that is of interest. Following here is a table showing roughly what I would like to do with Celtic Cross. I doubt I will actually sail every listed voyage, but I want to get to as many as time permits.

By all means drop me a note if you are interested in joining me for any of this. During the spring I may lean on a few of you to give me a hand with some of the prep work on Celtic Cross, although I am farming what I can out to subcontractors this winter. Until then, I wish you all còir (fair winds) on your sailing ventures.

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Sweetwater Cruising & Crew Development

It can be safely stated that no one will miss everything that was the year of 2020. Except maybe Jeff Bezos… I looked back at my post a year ago where I set out my goals for 2020 and I have to say I am pretty happy. Plans changed by the day because it was The Year of the Virus, but thanks to the help of a lot of my friends, Celtic Cross is sitting ashore off Lake St. Clair for the winter. Covid-19 will likely have an effect on 2021 as well, limiting sailing opportunities until Canada once again allows us access to the land of sky-blue waters.

Thus, 2021 is all about upgrading Celtic Cross and crew development. There is a fair amount of deferred maintenance needed as well as upgrading some of the tired interior finishes. Plus it is readily apparent that Celtic Cross traversed some 37 locks while crossing the Erie Canal and her rubrail definitely shows the scars from the lock walls. Not to mention scouring the bottom paint off the keel when we plowed a furrow in the bottom of the canal at one point. All good winter and early spring projects!

Just because of the logistics involved, it is doubtful that Celtic Cross will return to the Atlantic through the Erie Canal. The goal is to have her positioned on along the East Coast in April of whatever year we will sail across the Atlantic. Very likely this means sailing her out the St. Lawrence Seaway late (September/October) the year before. There is no guarantee that Canada will open their waters to recreational boating in 2021, which kills off that transit. Plus, developing a crew is a time-consuming process and will take all of 2021 at minimum.

So, my sailing across the Atlantic BHAG (Big Hairy Ass Goal) is looking more like late spring of 2023 all the time. What that means is that I spend one to two years sailing in the fresh waters of the Great Lakes instead of trying to put a crew together and get Celtic Cross out on the Atlantic coast by this time next year.

So what is “crew development” anyway? The crossing is roughly 750 nm out to Bermuda, then the big jump of 1,800 nm to the Azores, and another jump of perhaps 1,300 nm to the coast of France if that is where your destination is. Allowing for some miscellaneous sailing around, call it a 4,000 nautical mile voyage. Or 4,600 statute miles. About the same as driving from coast to coast in the U.S. and back again. For a lengthy crossing like that, a crew of 5 to 6 people is desirable if you wish to be comfortable and avoid being sleep deprived for the entire voyage. That means I need 7-9 people besides myself who are (a) capable of and (b) have the time to sail at least one leg of the trip. The overall voyage, all in with travel time, etc. is probably a couple of months and not everyone has that kind of time available.

Celtic Cross will probably get splashed sometime in early April for the 2021 sailing season. Ultimately, I will need 2-3 other people that have the ability to sail Celtic Cross from point A to point B if I am incapacitated. If one were to take classes, this is the equivalent of completing US Sailing’s Basic Keelboat and Basic Cruising courses. Much of Basic Keelboat is an online course (not all of it) where someone could get a head start over the winter (hint). In 2021 our sailing will be “Daysailing With a Purpose” along with several two to four day overnight passages north through the Great Lakes similar to the passage making legs we did in 2020. Celtic Cross will make point to point passages up through Lakes Huron, Michigan, and Superior just to make life more interesting than sailing around in circles on Lake St. Clair. If Canada allows us entry, that will include the Georgian Bay and North Channel areas. I figure by the end of January we will all know how the vaccination program is going and whether Canada will open up their waters. I’ll put out a preliminary sailing schedule at that time and look for folks who wish to sign up for one or more legs of the trip. At least the drives to and from the boat will be shorter than those ten hour marathon runs out to the East Coast!

While Celtic Cross is berthed on Lake St. Clair, we will periodically be “Daysailing With a Purpose” when we go out for a day on the lake. While it’s nice to spend a day on the water with a gin & tonic in hand (or that British Virgin Islands favorite… the Painkiller), it gets a little old after a while. In 2021 many of our daysails will have training sessions involved. It may be how to reef sails if the winds are heavy. Or conducting man overboard drills, how to heave to while on open water, anchoring techniques, and many other sailing skills that require practice. We may sail down to a local restaurant for lunch so we can practice docking or mooring techniques and how to leave a dock properly. Bringing a 53 foot sailboat into a slip with a crosswind can be challenging. And my scarfed-up rubrail shows the result. The rubrail, by the way, will be patched and refinished like new over the winter so we can collect a few new scars in 2021. Celtic Cross carries an inventory of five sails and technically, all five can be flying at the same time. While it looks spectacular, in reality it is a waste of time. Powering up and depowering the boat with the various sail configurations is something I need to work on and I hope to do so on some of the overnight runs up and down the Great Lakes.

Now, Christmas affords us the opportunity to reflect and an opportunity to say “Thanks” to all of our friends where we might forget to do so in the bustle of our day to day activities. And I certainly count everyone reading this among my friends. This is Christmas, and while many may have differing personal beliefs, it is hard not to believe that one God is watching over us and providing for our good fortune. We may call Him by different names, but because this season celebrates the birth of Christ, we will ask that God bless all of us in the coming year. Take time this season for your families and those most dear. Be of good cheer, know that you are needed, and enjoy the blessings with which we are provided.  Most of all, have a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

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August 13 The Erie Canal

The Erie Canal cuts off about 1,500 nautical miles of sailing up around Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, but it exacts a cost of its own. The 130 mile run up the Hudson River to the beginning of the Erie Canal is a beautiful waterway and not at all what we expected. First, it is an estuary, not a river. Which means saltwater all the way up to Albany, where they have a four foot tide over 100 miles from the ocean.

Now, we assumed that it was going to be a lazy, even tedious, six days motoring across upper New York State. Not entirely the case. Day 1 was a little intense just because we ran through five locks in the first two miles and passed through a dozen locks total. Here’s the first locks that we passed through, called the Waterford Flight.

The Erie Canal in its original form was only 40 feet wide and 4 foot deep. It was later enlarged and rerouted to accommodate much larger vessels. Today it promises a nominal 14 foot depth unless noted otherwise. And there are hundreds of “otherwises” listed in a table that tracks the depths of the canal along its entire 340 mile length. We had the opportunity to discover many of them for ourselves.

On Wednesday we were just entering Lock E15 when the bow thruster started sounding like a garbage disposal. Which, in reality, it was. It caught some floating debris and the prop came loose when the shear pins sheared. No bow thruster for the rest of the canal! It made maneuvering in tight quarters (like lock chambers) much more interesting. Later the same day, while passing through a canal guard gate, we ran over a log floating just below the surface, taking out the Garmin sonar transducer underneath the hull. In itself, not terrible, although expensive. But, with the mysteries of marine electronics, it also fouled up the autopilot, steering the boat hard to the right and nearly into the canal bank. We stopped, drifting around in the canal until we drifted out towards the middle and dropped anchor. There was no one… no boats, no homes, no nothing in sight for a mile in either direction. Just the canal, trees, and Celtic Cross floating in the middle of the canal. Day 2 was not going all that well. With the rudder stuck hard to starboard, we thought debris had caught in the rudder and needed to be cleared. Diving on the rudder, we found nothing! A call to Bill Rouse (my Amel mentor in Houston, TX) helped immensely. He suggested that it sounded like the autopilot had gone haywire. How he drew that conclusion I have no idea, but he was right! Turn off the electronics and all of a sudden the helm worked once again and we were on our way.

Day 3 began at Lock E18. After passing through the lock it looked like an easy 12 mile run up to the next lock. Then we felt the keel bump the bottom of the canal! Not good. The conventional wisdom is when you run aground… STOP! Don’t dig your self in deeper! However, Steve, John, and I all recognized the same consequence almost immediately. What were we going to do? Back up?!? And do what? Going back the way we came only added… oh… 1,200 miles to the trip. THAT wasn’t even an option. For the next 2 or 3 miles, we bumped along the bottom of the canal with our seven foot keel, never getting stuck, but just waiting for the time when we would grind to a halt. Definitely need some dredging along that stretch. We crossed Lake Oneida later that day and spent the night tied up at the free dock in Bremerton. We were greeted almost immediately by a local family, with Genesee Beers in hand, shouting that our Celtic Cross was “a sign” because we showed up on their Irish father’s 90th birthday. Well, they had beer, so who were we to argue? At least they didn’t expect us to drive the snakes out of Ireland, or Bremerton, or their back yard. They took some photos, offered us beer, and sat and chatted for a while.

As we were approaching Rochester on Day 5, the Lockmaster at Lock 33 asked what we drew. When we said seven feet he told us we would likely run aground when crossing the Genessee River a few mile ahead. More than that, an earlier sailboat drawing a few inches more go stuck and had to be towed off the sand bar with a tugboat. Well… shoot. In fact, his area supervisor was so certain we would get stuck that he offered to get one of his tugboats heading there because it takes them around 90 minutes to reach the river/canal crossing. Well, since we knew we were going to run aground, we could at least videotape it! Here it is.

We were nearly stopped in the center of the river, but thanks to the advice of the area supervisor, we knew where the best possible course was across the river intersection. Quite satisfying to call him back, thank him for the advice, and tell him his tug could turn around and go home. That night we finally tied up in Lockport at about 8:30PM. The following day, we ran the last 30 miles of the canal through North Tonawanda and coming out into the Niagara River, about 12 miles upstream from Niagara Falls. The current in the Niagara River is pretty impressive, going from about 4 knots at Lake Erie to over 40 knots just before the Falls. Now, the maximum motoring speed of Celtic Cross is just over 10 knots at full throttle. Where we entered the river the current was flowing at 5-6 knots. We had to go downstream a short distance to get to the marina where we could put the masts back up. Going downstream is easy. But… if you go too far downstream, a boat such as Celtic Cross cannot motor back against the current so we were rather cautious about watching where we were. Not a huge issue, but we were not about to be taking any sightseeing tours up and down the Niagara River! We were quite pleased with ourselves when we finally tied up at the end of the Erie Canal.

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The Hudson River – Family Vacations in the Corona Virus World

It turns out that this is a really great year to buy a boat. On this leg of moving Celtic Cross back to Michigan five of us, (brother Larry and his wife Prudence, son Michael, and nephew Arthur Wood) all drove out to Manasquan, NJ, bought provisions for three days on the water, and headed north towards New York City and the Hudson River.

Entering New York Harbor from the Atlantic is one of those not-to-be-missed experiences. First, it’s big. When you round Sandy Hook and see the skyline for the first time you think you’re almost there. Not even close. A long run across Raritan Bay, under the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, through the Narrows, across Lower New York Bay, past the Statue of Liberty, across Upper New York Bay until we finally reached Manhattan. And busy! Michael got a crash course in piloting as he helmed the boat across the harbor. He did just fine. Until we ran across the Staten Island ferries. Lots of them. They hire ex- NYC cab drivers as helmsmen. Rules of the road are simple: “Stay the h*** out of my way.”

Our berth for the night was in New Jersey looking up at the Manhattan skyline . We docked just in time. While swinging Celtic Cross into the slip we ran aground. Seven foot draft? Sure, you can dock here! No problem! Right… Fortunately, getting “ungrounded” was just a matter of going hard in reverse. We tied up alongside a pier in a little deeper water. Nearly immediately we got hit by a squall that swept across the harbor along with 70+ gusts of wind, rain blowing sideways, and lightning everywhere. You tend to take a little more interest in lightning when you have a 68 foot aluminum mast sticking up in the air.

The next morning we started our 100 mile, two day run up the Hudson River. The Hudson, we learned, is not a river. It’s an estuary of the Atlantic Ocean. It is saltwater up the entire river to Albany. And the tidal flows are significant. It seems odd to have four foot tides when you’re 100 miles from the nearest ocean, but that’s what we found. Here is a (somewhat lengthy) video of our voyage.

Nearly a month later we returned to Catskill and Hoponose Marina for the last leg of the trip. John Macumber and Steve Guzowski joined me once again along with Tim Shaw, lifelong friend and business partner. Celtic Cross looked more like a river barge than a sailboat once her two masts and standing rigging was all down. The Erie Canal has a maximum height restriction of 15′-4″ above the high water line in the canal in order to clear the many…many fixed bridges along its 340 mile length. Fortunately, Celtic Cross’s solar array measured in at 12′ so there was no need to dismantle the solar arch. We were good to go! Or so we thought.

Around 2:30 AM Tim woke me up by telling me he needed to get to a hospital. Stat. Not what anyone wants to hear at that time of the morning, but being in a strange place made it much more interesting. Catskill doesn’t even HAVE a hospital. But… Tim being Tim, he had already called and figured out where to go, packed his bags, called his wife (a nurse), and arranged for his son to drive out to New York to pick him up. (That’s why I had him as a business partner for forty years.) To cut to the chase here, we got Tim to the emergency room across the Hudson River, they diagnosed him, patched him up, and we were back at the boat and in our bunks by 5:30 AM. John and Steve had no idea we were even gone. Regardless, Tim was on a heavy antibiotic regimen and could not make the trip, so he joined us for the 30 mile run up to Albany where we dropped him off so he could meet his son for the trip back home. Here’s a shorter video on the last segment of the Hudson River.

Tim, by the way, is doing just fine. After we dropped him off it was only another mile or so up to Waterford where we tied up for the evening.

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Finally! Heading North Once Again

It feels good. Just the ability to get out and do something… anything in this train wreck of a year. I’m approaching this segment with at least a little trepidation. At over 600 nautical miles it is our longest offshore jump by far. On a previous leg I had slipped, fell, split my forehead open, and nearly knocked myself out on the foredeck. It made me acutely aware that medical help is not a quick trip to the ER. Fortunately I had good first aid supplies on board and steri-strips are an excellent substitute for stitches.

Our chief concern for the passage was wind. The winds are better in May/June when I originally planned the passage. Not so much in July and on our first day out it was not looking positive. Warm, sunny,… and calm. We motored and motor sailed NNE for nearly all day, aiming to get ourselves out in the middle of the Gulfstream. When we got there, we found wind AND current. For the next two days we had a great ride north, never dropping below 6 knots and often being pushed along at 10-11 knots.

As we approached Cape May, we learned that we were heading directly at Tropical Storm Isaias about 100 nm north. However, Isaias was going the same direction as we were and about the same speed, so we were in no real danger of running into it. What Isaias did send us is waves. Big waves. 20 to 25 foot ocean swells that made ships on the horizon disappear. By this time we were once again motor sailing as the wind had died. It made for an uncomfortable ride past Chesapeake Bay and up the Jersey coast.

Dawn breaking off Cape May

Now, the trip was not not entirely uneventful. On the first night out I returned to my cabin coming off watch at 2200 hours and my bare foot splashed into water. There is never ANYTHING positive about finding water where it is not supposed to be on a boat. First step is to taste it. Yep, saltwater. That means a leak. Somewhere. Fortunately (I guess) it was easy to find. The packing around the rudder post was leaking like a sieve. So much for getting any sleep. First we needed to bail all the water that was sloshing around in the bilge. Steve volunteered for most of the bailing and by the end of the passage had spent several hours on his knees with a bucket. Despite having extra packing, we never fully resolved the leak on this passage and periodically bailed our way all the way to New Jersey.

Celtic Cross Engine Room… and Russ!

The following day our fresh water pump decided to retire while we were 100 miles offshore and three days from our destination. Our fresh water tank carries 900 liters, so we had plenty, but no pump. We did have an emergency pump on board and plenty of bottled water, which in 90 degree heat is an absolute necessity, so we managed until docking in Manasquan. However, I was adamant about replacing the pump before we left so I had a working fresh water system for the next leg. Russ volunteered to bury himself down in our 110 degree engine room for a few hours and replace the pump. We were pretty certain he was going to need CPR by the time he finally got out of there. Russ did need help, but it came in the form of a couple of cold beers.

They say that anytime you can step off the boat onto the dock instead of being carried off it’s a good voyage. None of us had ever made an offshore passage of this length. That trans-Atlantic passage is looking better after this.

Dockside along the Manasquan River
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On the Road Again

Assessing risk has become our new national pastime. Opinions on what is acceptable risk range from Speaker Pelosi’s ongoing mantra “People will die!!” to the opposite extreme of assuming that we can continue on with our normal lives because nothing has changed. On the risk spectrum where 0% is cuddled in your personal safe space and 100% is where Charles Darwin’s theory is proved once again, well I probably lie in the 80-90% range. Which means I at least give it a little thought before doing something stupid. And yes, I’ve assessed incorrectly on more than a few occasions. Fortunately not dead yet.

What I did promise myself is that if I survived my stem cell transplant and got my health back to somewhere near normal I would not waste whatever years I have left. Because you just never know what is waiting for you around the corner that will finally take you out. My current goal of sailing across the Atlantic was progressing quite well until the coronavirus showed up. Thus far that has killed off our spring and probably set me back a year.

Now, lest you think I am feeling sorry for myself, believe me…. I’m not! I, along with many of you, am extremely fortunate. Many are in far more dire straits than I, so the fact that I am unable to go sailing is not going to draw headlines on the evening news. Nor should anyone give a rat’s ass, and rightfully so. What does trouble me is the unmitigated fear that seems to have grabbed hold of the country and caused everyone to be fearful of resuming what was everyday life only a few short weeks ago. The first suggestion of doing anything even perceived as risky brings dire warnings from all sides. Cannot tell you how often I’ve heard “Well, I’ll come to your funeral!”

Hunter S. Thompson is a long way from being any kind of a role model for me, but I do like his thinking on how to spend a lifetime… “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, leaking oil, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!” With that in mind, it is time to get moving on my BHAG once again. Shutting down all spring for the pandemic really buggered up my timetable.

Now I simply want Celtic Cross back in Michigan so I can sail around here and work on her until spring 2021 when I can once again head out to the Atlantic. And this is where I can use a little help. I had a rather detailed plan for coming north so that I should already be sitting happily in my berth on Lake St. Clair nursing a beer and wondering what to do for dinner this evening. Nope. The pandemic nuked those plans. So… let’s try this again. Following is an rough timetable for sailing from Charleston, SC back to Detroit beginning after the 4th of July.

Celtic Cross Passages

The Plan…

My intent is to drive a rental SUV to and from the various marinas along the way. It’s about the price of an expensive airline flight and I don’t have to concern myself with returning in the same vehicle. Plus I can bring my crew with me and we avoid airlines entirely. I could always just make this trip as one continuous run north, but I have found that it is harder to find 2-4 people willing to take off the three weeks it will take to get Celtic Cross up here in a single pass. Better to cut it up into bite-size chunks for those who may not wish to take off that much time, but would jump at the chance to try sailing for a few days. I may have the leg from Atlantic City to Catskill, NY covered already. Not entirely sure.

Where I can use some crew is the offshore jump from Charleston up to Atlantic City. In July that should be a great sail. Good weather, moderate winds, and a little push from the Gulfstream. The only real requirement is that you be in decent physical shape. Sailing experience is great, but not a requirement. I have had a few people on board already who struggled to move about the boat. A rolling deck at sea is not a good place to be if you are physically somewhat immobile. If this looks interesting to any of you, drop me a note via email or Messenger. The goal is to have a bit of adventure and a lot of fun!

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Hunkered Down in South Carolina

One month ago I had just cancelled my flight and chose to drive home in a rental car from Charleston, SC. I was having trouble wrapping my head around what had occurred in the five days brother James and I were offshore sailing Celtic Cross north on what was to be the first of several passages moving my boat back to Detroit. Instead of simply taking a break before the next passage, I prepped Celtic Cross for what might be a stay of weeks or even months tied alongside a dock in South Carolina. Of course by the time I was home I had a list of a dozen items I had forgotten to do before leaving.

Rascal (foreground) and Celtic Cross settled in Charleston City Marina. Rascal (Hull #404) is a sister Amel Super Maramu built in 2003 a few months after Celtic Cross (Hull #380)

Even the drive was different. I enjoy driving long distances, but there was moments of anxiety the whole way back. I drove the 900 mile trip in one long day, using drive-throughs for meals, self serve pumps, and rest stops only in freeway rest areas. As dusk fell I found myself on a two lane US-33 in southern Ohio wondering if gas stations were shutting down for the night. Fortunately, I had flown south to Fort Lauderdale with a handful of face masks, nitrile gloves, and Clorox wipes left over from my chemotherapy and stem cell transplant three years ago. The term “social distancing” entered our lexicon while I was offshore in the Atlantic, but anyone flying on a plane knew there were risks of infection, so for the first time ever I wiped down my seat and tray table. And in offering wipes to the guy in the next seat I had two other passengers ask if they might have one. Strange at the time, but today, one month later… completely normal. Except that none of us are even contemplating flying in the near future.

Fast forward two weeks to the 1st of April. I had cancelled my flight back to Charleston for our next leg sailing north. Instead, I spent the better part of the morning wiping down groceries with Clorox wipes after they were delivered from the store and sat in the garage for a day. President Trump and his corona virus task force were briefing the nation that the next two weeks were going to be really bad. 100,000 to 240,000 deaths were anticipated if everything went well. He broached the subject of re-opening the country around that time and the press went predictably berserk. The Democrat fear mantra of “People will die!” was heard time and again on newscasts and from our congressional delegates.

Fast forward another two weeks to the present. In that short period, the country’s attention had indeed shifted to… well, exactly how ARE we going to get things going again? Great question and there are no pat answers or history to guide us. What makes this exceptionally interesting is that we have never, ever been here before! Frankly, I think the job that our President and the Task Force are doing in guiding a nation of 330 million people through this is extraordinary. Not only is it a pandemic, it is a pandemic with an unknown virus about which our health care system knew virtually nothing. And we had virtually no experience with shutting down an entire country of this size. And by the way, you get to measure the time available to come up with solutions, plans, logistics, etc. in hours, not the months or years you may actually need. And no do-overs allowed. Get it right the first time.

Now that it appears that the death toll has been suppressed to levels below the projections, predictably many are claiming that the measures taken were too extreme. Really?!? Don’t recall hearing that prognostication two weeks ago. I have always maintained that being a critic is easy; even to the point of being cowardly. Criticism and complaints are forgotten if things go well. The critics know that they will seldom be called to task. Making decisions in the absence of certainty, picking a direction, and leading the charge are what real leaders do. Their decisions are held up to merciless scrutiny, unlike the critics who will seldom make a decision that requires real risk.

The time has come to figure out what I can do with Celtic Cross. Under the circumstances it still makes more sense to get her back to Michigan. Today is supposedly the middle of the worst of this virus, with the most people dying. Purportedly we are at the top of the curve and should be heading down the other side. What this will look like 3 months or 6 months from now is unpredictable at best. Future travel across the country is likewise unpredictable should there be a “second wave” this fall or later. So here is my plan.

  1. I’m not flying anytime soon. I’ve found that I can rent a car for point to point driving for about the price of an airline ticket. It just takes longer. The plus side is that I can bring crew with me and the longest drive is down to Charleston, which can be done in a day. Of course, rental car businesses need to be open.
  2. Travel restrictions need to be lifted in the eight states we drive through traveling to and from the boat.
  3. Social distancing will likely remain in effect for many weeks ahead. Whatever group I can assemble at some point in the future needs to be tested the day before departure to see if anyone is positive. Once we become a group, social distancing from others becomes pretty easy on a sailboat in the middle of the Atlantic. I know testing is available at U. of M. Medical Center now and will likely be pretty easy in a few weeks.
  4. Going offshore and then returning may attract some attention, particularly as we sail into New York harbor to head up the Hudson. Prior to departure all states along the Atlantic Coast need to be accepting boats from other states so that we do not find ourselves either turned away or quarantined. I think this is not an issue now, but it needs to be confirmed in case we need to put in somewhere unexpectedly.
  5. The Erie Canal and New York marinas need to be open. The planned maintenance of the canal is on hold during the corona virus emergency. Thus the opening of the canal for the season is also delayed. No opening date has yet been established.

Because the logistics here have become more complex, when and if I can put something together, the passages will become a little longer. The next leg will be a passage from Charleston up to Catskill, NY on the Hudson River. I have to stop there to take the masts down for the Erie Canal and I will likely head home for a week or so at that point. Just an estimate will be five days at sea plus a day motoring up the Hudson. With travel and a day to provision the entire trip will be about ten days.

I believe we will be in the “shelter in place” mode for at least another month here in Michigan, so I doubt this will happen before late May. I spent some time discussing what happened since mid-March to (a) demonstrate how fast life is changing for all of us and (b) document this particular time in my blog just because I want to remember what we are going through right now. When another month passes everything is going to look a lot brighter and more normal for all of us. I, for one, will be ready for some adventure. And this is one time when Jill will not mind me disappearing for a while at all! So if you would like to join me, drop me a note.

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