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A Brief Intro

Boston, Massachusetts, as seen from the dock of the MIT Sailing Pavilion in Cambridge.

“There’s still so much to be done.” – Jimmy Buffett (Last Mango in Paris)

Truthfully, it started back in 2002. Living in Boston, about to graduate MIT, and facing a sad job market with few prospects, we decided to head south. With one full semester’s wages as a down payment, we purchased a 1967 Cheoy Lee Offshore 31 Ketch named “Mi Luv.” Having basically thrown a dart at the map, we decided to move her to Bradenton Beach, Florida. We departed the mooring at Dinner Key in Miami, immediately ran aground, dropped back, hired a captain, and eventually made it around Florida.

We lived aboard our beautiful ketch for nearly two years, surviving four hurricanes in six weeks in the summer of 2004. Working full time, we gave our old girl as much love and attention as we could afford, but certainly not as much as she deserved. Once we’d moved her up to the coast of North Carolina and ourselves several hours inland, it became clear that we wouldn’t be able to keep up an old boat of that size. So sadly, we sold her, but happily, we bought a 1972 Tanzer 16 that has made for a good deal of fun sailing on the lakes of central NC.

Then 2020 arrived. We’d talked for years about wanting another “yacht” – sorry little Tanzer, but I missed nights at anchor. Not being able to go anywhere other than our own house for months, well, that just accelerated our plans. We signed the form and secured a build slot with Island Packet in June of 2020, one month after my cancelled 40th Birthday trip to the Bahamas. Construction started October 2nd.

Andros Island, we’ll see you in the future. Hold on to my deposit.

Boat Drinks Part 4 – The Homecoming

“May all your drinks be boat drinks with friends.” JD Spradlin, Radio Margaritaville DJ

Greetings from the bar aboard Siar!

We’ve asked the first mate’s brother, Adam, to design a menu of cocktails for the made-up holidays in our boat’s calendar year. Presenting our fourth installment, the “Homecoming.”

July 15th, 2021, we welcomed Siar to her home port of Beaufort, NC. Seven of us packed into her main salon to share a champagne toast.

To celebrate, we present the “Homecoming,” a champagne and whiskey cocktail, complete with citrus and egg white for a little “fizz”.

Read the story of how Siar got to NC, in two parts:

The Trip Part 1: Floridays

The Trip Part 2: Red Sky

The drink itself is intended to be somewhat of a “hair of the dog,” perhaps better the day after a celebration.

Recipe below, with our picks & adaptations for available ingredients.

Some ingredients for the “Homecoming”

The “Homecoming”

2 oz Whiskey*

1/2 oz lemon juice

1/2 oz lime juice

1/2 oz simple syrup

1 egg white

3 to 4 dashes absinthe

Champagne*

Orange peel or orange wheel for garnish

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Instructions: Add all ingredients except the champagne and orange to a shaker and shake without ice. Add ice and shake until well chilled. Strain into a glass and top with chilled champagne. Garnish with an orange peel or orange wheel.

*The original recipe calls for Scotch, but we tend to favor Irish Whiskey. For the champagne, we were advised to use a Brut.

Galley adaptation: If you’re out of fresh fruit on the boat, as can happen to a sailor, bottled lemon and lime juice can be used. In that case, cut the juice back a little, as the bottled stuff tends to be stronger than fresh.

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Bespoke cocktail selection by Adam Neizmik, adapted from the classic “Morning Glory Fizz,” as created by Harry Johnson.

Boat Drinks Part 1 – The “Good Ship”

Boat Drinks Part 2 – The “Full Keel”

Boat Drinks Part 3 – The “Big Splash”

The Trip – Part 2 of 2: Red Sky

“Call for the Captain ashore. Let me go home. I want to go home.”Sloop John B, adapted by The Beach Boys from The John B. Sails, Bahamian folk song

From my ship’s part-log, part-journal, day one:

“Departed the marina ~9:30am. Failed to account for the incoming tide of Tampa Bay. Also failed to communicate / understand that “5-1/2 hours to Venice” meant 5-1/2 hours from the end of Tampa Channel. The bay was pretty flat with minimal wind. We only put up the working jib, as the Coast Guard was relaying a National Weather Service severe weather warning ALL DAY. Once out of the bay, it was a pleasant motor sail south about 3 miles off shore past Anna Maria Island, our old home, and then Longboat Key.

Approaching the “Sunshine Skyway” bridge over Tampa Bay in minimal wind.

It was after 4pm when the low dark clouds appeared over Siesta Key. We took in sail and battened down the hatches as soon as the westerly wind started to clock around eastward. About 4:30 we felt the temperature drop, and the real storm started about 5:10. The lightening that had crackled over the land was now just off our bow. When the autohelm could no longer hold course, Lee took the wheel, but even with his strength, it was difficult to maintain our 155 degree heading towards Venice. We turned into the wind, almost due east, gusting to speeds of over 40 kt. The depth transducer kept turning off and on. The boat pitched and rolled, but Lee handled her and she handled brilliantly.

The gathering storm, Siesta Key, FL.

When we’d had enough, he put her hard over to go with the wind, which significantly reduced the apparent wind speed and the rain that had been pelting our faces. Eventually we were able to regain course towards Venice and some actual light between the clouds. Still, the lightening wouldn’t quit. It was off both sides of the bow and directly in front of us. Then one big strike hit what seemed like directly off our stern.”

We finally reached the jetty at Venice around 7pm. The tide was running out, the current was strong, and the marina was closed. Our friend, who had wisely stayed below, came up to assist with docking, and we strategically drifted up the the fuel dock and tied up for the night. Dinner at the Crow’s Nest was excellent. Conch fritters.

Our day one destination: The Crow’s Nest, Venice, FL.

I will say I was glad to be on our sturdy new Island Packet through the scary stuff. We had gained confidence in the boat, just not in ourselves. With storms forecast to cross Florida from east to west every single day for the foreseeable future, we decided to take advantage of the “inside route” down the west coast for as long as we could before making the jump to the Keys. On day two, we made it a whopping twelve miles down the Intracoastal Waterway to Englewood before putting in at a dock to wait out the afternoon’s storm, which curiously skirted around our chosen location. Lee studied the chart plotter, and we set our sights on Fort Myers Beach, which would be a manageable motor down “the ditch” the next day.

On day three, we almost made it to Ft Myers Beach. It had appeared on all the weather apps that the afternoon thunderstorms would do just what they did the day before, pass on either side of us. But by mid afternoon, on the water it appeared that the storms were closing in all around us. Not wanting to attempt to navigate a new channel and dock at a new marina in a thunderstorm, we turned around and headed north to where we’d seen a larger sailboat anchored off of the ICW in a few feet of water.

Siar at anchor off St. James City, FL.

Not long after we’d set the hook, the wind clocked around in a now familiar way, and we swung about 180 degrees on our anchor chain. Thankfully, the anchor held us, and the three of us hunkered down below. We watched the one other boat in our anchorage bobbing in the swells and wondered if anyone was aboard. We talked a lot about lightening and practiced using the spare VHF – just in case. Then just like the day before and the day before that, the storm passed. We hung the hammock from the dinghy davits, and I made tacos and margaritas. We explored our little anchorage by dinghy and retired after sunset.

Margaritas in the hammock, the first mate quite content with our anchorage.

Day four. “Sorry, I know, red sky in the morning and all,” said our friend, “but this sunrise is gorgeous.” The southwest Florida sunrise was in fact gorgeous, and quite red. We pulled up the anchor and got our earliest start of the trip. We motored south, bound for Fort Myers Beach, where we knew we’d have a decision to make about the continuation of the trip. Passing the inlet, we gazed out in the direction of the Gulf of Mexico. Another sailboat was outbound, heading out to adventure.

The channel into Ft Myers Beach curves around the backside of the island and hugs the shore. We could have tossed a football to the couple standing on the beach at Bowditch Point Park. As it turns out, it’s also the channel for the large Ft Myers to Key West Ferry, so it is deep and well-marked. Arriving at Moss Marina, we tied up to the fuel dock, filled the tanks, and stared at one another for a moment.

Red sky in the morning, Florida, 2021.

We’d made this trip before. In 2005, we brought our Cheoy Lee ketch, S/V Westward, from Bradenton Beach, Florida, to Oriental, North Carolina, mostly via the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (AICW). The trip took us 5 weeks on a boat that we’d lived on for nearly two years. This time, on a brand new boat, unfamiliar with her modern systems, we’d allowed ourselves 15 days. By the time we docked in Ft. Myers beach, we were already 6 days “behind schedule.”

In addition, the weather system that would eventually become Tropical Storm (and twice briefly Hurricane) Elsa was moving westward across the Atlantic. It was too early to tell what path she would take. Would she impact the east coast? The Florida Keys? The Gulf of Mexico? Ultimately, she did all three.

We’d budgeted all of our allotted vacation from our corporate jobs for this trip, and we were quickly running out of days. In a quiet moment after coffee, our friend informed us that he’d booked a flight out the next day. So in a strange parallel to our first trip aboard our Cheoy Lee, the friend who’d signed on for the trip departed, and we hired a Captain.

Storm Prep 101: sail stowed and bags packed.

We had every intention of bringing Siar around from Florida to North Carolina ourselves. We made the decision to park her at Moss Marina in Fort Myers Beach to sit out Elsa. I watched as the storm took a track eerily similar to that of our first ever hurricane, 2004’s Charley, which at the time was the 2nd costliest hurricane in US history. We doubled the dock lines and took down both head sails in preparation. Unless you plan on replacing or upgrading your sail set, that’s not something you want to do within the first month of boat ownership.

Other than our visit from Elsa, we enjoyed our time in Fort Myers Beach. It’s a part of Florida we’d never visited before, and it reminded us of our old home on Anna Maria Island. Using our last few vacation days to wait out Elsa, we frequented the beach, running back across the island to the marina from the daily afternoon thunderstorms. We ate fish tacos and bought ourselves some hot sauce for the collection. We befriended the house singer at a local watering hole and told him our story. He dedicated a song to us – Sloop John B – “I want to go home.”

Finally, a little vacation time
A typical day at the beach, Fort Myers Beach, FL.

We met Cap’N Blaine in Fort Myers Beach on a Friday afternoon in July, after Elsa had passed. Blaine is one of those been-everywhere, done-everything kind of guys. He doesn’t brag, though; things just come out in conversation. Delivery captain, sailing instructor, motivational speaker, overland tour guide, and van nomad. It was the last role that he’d intended to fulfill that week in July. Normally he wouldn’t do a boat delivery during hurricane season. Thankfully our friends at Island Packet had intervened on our behalf. So Blaine agreed to take the helm, and signed on his trusted partner for such deliveries, Craig. The two of us headed back to North Carolina by train.

It’s not easy writing about leaving the boat in Florida. Were we disappointed, as Mr. Twain had predicted? Of course. Looking back on it a year later, however, we know we made the right decision. We’ve since sailed our boat to the Bahamas and back, and we’ve learned so much about planning and preparation that we simply didn’t know last summer.

The Cap’N and the kids, Florida.

I awoke around 3am on a Thursday morning in July. Siar was sailing northeast, well off the coast of North Carolina, bound for her new home port. I was hawking my phone from my bed some 250 miles inland. Siar’s Automatic Identification System (AIS) allowed us to monitor her position as Captains Blaine and Craig made her delivery from Fort Myers Beach to Beaufort, basically riding the windless wake that had been left behind by Tropical Storm Elsa. The plan was to stop for fuel in the morning and arrive at the dock in the evening. However, from their morning AIS position, it was clear they’d made the decision to skip the fuel stop and head straight for Beaufort harbor. They must have found some wind. When sailing, plans change.

So we breezed through the office, dropping off what instructions were needed, and jumped in the car to head over land for Beaufort. Siar’s arrival was quite the fanfare. My parents joined us on the dock, along with Lee’s father. Around 3pm, Blaine steered her into her slip while Craig tossed us the dock lines. I still enjoy telling the story of how we packed seven people into the salon of our Island Packet 349 for a champagne toast. Siar was home. So were we.

Siar at home in her slip #D-7, Beaufort, NC.

Read Part 1 of 2: Floridays

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You Tube: The Beach Boys “Sloop John B”

The Trip – Part 1 of 2: Floridays

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bow lines. Sail away from the safe harbor.” – Mark Twain

One beautiful Miami morning in the summer of 2003, I awoke in the forward berth of our newly purchased Cheoy Lee ketch, my body wedged in between the hull side and my husband as the boat leaned to starboard. The previous day, we’d departed our mooring, bound for the Gulf of Mexico. We navigated the channel from marker to marker and ran aground very near a marker labeled “danger.” Clearly, we were in need of better binoculars. Undaunted, we waited for high tide, floated off the sandbar, and turned around. We made it back to our mooring, but in the dark and the rain I was unable to grab it. So I grabbed the tiller instead and navigated us to our overnight resting place on the sandbar in the lee of a little mangrove island that protected Dinner Key marina. I had been heading for the fuel dock.

The mooring field at Dinner Key marina, Miami, FL, 2022.

In the morning, Lee, my husband and captain, went above deck to survey the situation. From the shore of the island, a voice called out “It looks like you’re aground.” That would explain the odd lean to the berth. “Get off and push.” Pushing didn’t do much for our full keel boat, so once again we waited for the tide to rise then limped back to our mooring to regroup and revise our float plan. Within a few days, our friend who’d signed on for the trip had parted our company, and “Go-John,” for whom we’d provided the entertainment that morning on the island, had helped us find a captain to take us around Florida to our destination, Anna Maria Island.

What I remember of the rest of that trip is exceedingly pleasant: gliding through Biscayne Bay thanks to Captain Winston’s local knowledge, pausing for a snorkel at Hens & Chickens, pushing on through the keys to the Seven Mile Bridge at Marathon, where we were rewarded with a green chili cheeseburger at Burdines. Even the passage up the west coast was magical. I’d never been out of sight of land on a boat of any size, and admittedly I was afraid to sail at night, but the Gulf breezes and our Cheoy Lee carried us peacefully north. We put in at Venice and enjoyed dinner at the Crow’s Nest. The next day, we docked on Anna Maria Island, our new home.

S/V Westward, minus a mast, Beaufort, NC, circa 2006

Years later, we awoke as Island Packet owners for the first time on a balmy Sunday in June, 2021. The day before, we’d met Nick from Island Packet for a whirlwind tour of our new boat. That pleasant morning, our old percolator, retained from the days aboard the Cheoy Lee, was still in service, and Lee made coffee while I proceeded to unpack. We made plans for the next day. In fact, we had hatched many plans. Arrive in St. Pete on Saturday, and depart on Wednesday. Pick up a friend in Key West on Friday. Splash a couple of days in the clear blue water then run the outside up to Beaufort, NC.

Our dinghy on her launch day.

Monday, at least, went as planned. We delivered donuts and coffee to the Island Packet Factory up in Largo and met up with Darrell, owner and President of the company who’d built our dream boat. We picked up our dinghy, a 10’3” rigid hull inflatable sourced at the 11th hour by AI Boats of St Pete. She launched complete with a 20 horsepower outboard, apparently the last one available in all of Florida.

The rest of the day’s agenda: sailing with Darrell, followed by docking practice. I learned to work the roller furlings (new to me). Darrell had to remind me twice that I didn’t need to hold the line coming off of the self-tailing winch (also new to me). Returning to the marina, Lee expertly parallel parked the boat on the first try, and Darrell departed. I guess he didn’t think we needed any more “docking practice.” All in all, it was a great first sail. At the end of the day, our short punch list stood at five items.

Sailing with Darrell Allen of Island Packet Yachts.

Then, on Tuesday morning, Harv arrived.

Neil Harvey is without a doubt the most accomplished sailor I have met in my life. In the online archives of various sailing rags, he’s described as a “world famous Australian ocean racer” (1) and the “grand old man of bareboat racing.” (2) He may favor you with an anecdote about his time on the Australian America’s Cup Team, or a tale of a yacht delivery spanning continents. He’s known to many from his years at Harken Yacht Equipment, which is why, when I noticed that my Gill sailing gloves had developed a hole in the palm, he turned my hand over and remarked, “that’s because you bought the wrong brand.” Apparently, it didn’t take Darrell at Island Packet long to talk him out of complete retirement, and he now teaches new Island Packet owners how to sail their boat. Fitting, as he worked with the Island Packet team to design the rig.

Harv watches Lee at the helm.

Sailing with Harv was a good bit more spirited than Monday’s outing, and not just because we had a bit more wind. The world famous ocean racer set us up on a point of sail and at a heel angle that frankly, I was not prepared to endure. Flashing back to our days on the Cheoy Lee (also a full keel boat): the first time she started to to heel over, I instinctively jumped to the windward (high) side. At the time, my very new husband couldn’t help but laugh. Eighteen years later, I haven’t shaken that instinct. I’ve turtled far too many a tech dinghy in the relative calm on the river to ever want to do it on a “big” boat at sea, or even in the bay.

Harv eventually assented to my fears and let us sail the boat a little more flat, which lost us about a knot and a half of speed. Ultimately, he had our best interests at heart. In the very short time we’d allotted ourselves for “learning,” he taught us as much as he could about how to get the best performance out of our boat and her sails. He gave us tips for maintaining the boat’s rigging and our own safety underway. He took us to the riggers to commission a jack line for the cockpit. He secured me an extra winch handle, because as Nick had been quick to point out, we ordered our boat with “no electric winches.” We enjoyed anchoring practice and Harv’s favorite local sandwich shop. We even enjoyed a bit of our finest John Watling’s rum from the Bahamas, because when you have a legend aboard, you break out the best.

A beautiful sail under main and reacher.
Harv instructs us on how to set the reacher.

As we settled into life aboard our new sailboat, a few other issues arose. The air conditioner made a funny noise at night. The butter in the fridge went soft. Wednesday saw the first major “sailboat surgery” aboard Siar, as Nick and his team removed and replaced the fridge / freezer unit. Thursday we got in another sail with Harv, albeit with no wind. We did get to stretch out the reacher, our big, light air headsail. Practice tacking? No. Post pretty pictures on Instagram? Yes.

Friday was the final frenzied punch list day. Having changed our plans to delay the boat’s departure from St. Pete, our friend was able to change his flight arrival from Key West to Tampa. In Thursday evening’s rain storms, we had discovered a couple of leaks in the aft cabin. Their repair on Friday involved disassembling and reassembling of one of our cockpit winches. The day before our rescheduled departure, Nick took a spray to the face in order to find our leak, tweaked and repaired everything possible and necessary, and did it all with a vacuum in his left hand. I’m not sure the boat has ever been so clean since.

Goodbye, old fridge.
The guts of a Harken winch.

Our friend arrived in time to venture out into downtown St. Pete for dinner. It was the second time we’d been off the boat in a week. Back aboard Siar, tired but exhilarated for our upcoming adventure, we decided to do the champagne dedication. We’d asked Harv about the tradition of breaking a bottle over the bow. In his wisdom, he’d told us we’d be better off pouring a bit on her and enjoying the rest, which is exactly what we did. “May all who sail aboard her…”

Siar dockside, Safe Harbor marina, St. Petersburg, FL, 2021

The last Saturday in June, we awoke, had our coffee, and made the boat ready to get underway. We mounted the GoPro on the stern rail to film our departure, and untied Siar’s docklines. I received an encouraging text from Harv – the quote above from Mr. Twain. We’d chosen to make day one of the trip an “in-and-out” to build up our confidence. On day two, we’d head for the keys. By our calculations, after five and a half hours of sailing, we’d be docked in Venice well before the standard afternoon thunderstorms. Everyone thought we were heading into a good weather window. Everyone, that is, except the National Weather Service.

Read Part 2 of 2: Red Sky

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Links:

(1) Neil Harvey in Cruising World Magazine, 2018

(2) Neil Harvey in Sail Magazine, 2017

Boat Drinks Part 3 – The Big Splash

“May all your drinks be boat drinks with friends.” JD Spradlin, Radio Margaritaville DJ

Greetings from the bar aboard Siar!

We’ve asked the first mate’s brother, Adam, to design a menu of cocktails for the made-up holidays in our boat’s calendar year. Our June celebrations we’ve named “Splash Day” and “Delivery Day.”

June 9th, 2021, Siar “splashed,” meaning she left the factory where she was built, and was lowered into the waters of St. Petersburg, FL. A mere ten days later, we took “delivery,” stepping aboard our completed boat in the harbor for the first time.

To celebrate, we present the “Big Splash,” a gin-based cocktail, with cool and refreshing citrus notes, just in time for summer.

Since Siar was built, splashed, and delivered in Florida, we’re favoring Florida-based ingredients where possible.

Recipe below, with our picks & adaptations for available ingredients.

Some ingredients for the “Big Splash”

The “Big Splash”

1-1/2 oz Gin (our pick = St. Augustine Gin, St. Augustine Distillery)

1-1/2 oz Vermouth Blanc*

1-1/2 oz Orange liqueur (our pick = Tippler’s, St. Petersburg Distillery)

1-1/2 oz Lemon juice, fresh squeezed

Pernod, to rinse the glass*

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Instructions: Rinse the inside of the glass(es) with the Pernod, pour out and set aside for later enjoyment. Add the rest of the ingredients into a shaker with ice. Shake until well chilled and strain into the prepared glasses. Makes 2 servings, unless it is quite hot outside or you are quite thirsty.

*The original recipe calls for Lillet Blanc, which we were unable to find in Florida. Vermouth Blanc is an acceptable substitute. Even Dry Vermouth can be used, but in that case, cut back the amount by 1/4 ounce.

*The original recipe also calls for an Absinthe rinse, but we found Pernod to be a quite acceptable substitute. Don’t drink the leftover rinse until after you’ve tasted the cocktail!

Galley adaptation: If you’re out of fresh fruit on the boat, as can happen to a sailor, bottled lemon juice can be used. In that case, cut the juice back by about a third, and add a touch more of the sweet orange liqueur.

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Bespoke cocktail selection by Adam Neizmik, adapted from the classic “Corpse Reviver 2,” first published in Harry Craddock’s “The Savoy Cocktail Book.”

Many thanks, Adam – there is a full bottle of Tippler’s with your name on it!

Boat Drinks Part 1 – The “Good Ship”

Boat Drinks Part 2 – The “Full Keel”

Boat Drinks Part 2 – The Full Keel

“May all your drinks be boat drinks with friends.” JD Spradlin, Radio Margaritaville DJ

Greetings from the bar aboard Siar!

We’ve asked the first mate’s brother, Adam, to design a menu of four cocktails for the four holidays in our calendar year. The second we call “Ballast Day” – yes, we made up a holiday. November 16th, the day the ballast was installed in Siar’s keel at Island Packet Yachts. Read more about it over at our Ballast Day post. Recipe below, with adaptations for available ingredients.

Some ingredients for the “Full Keel”

The “Full Keel”

1-1/2 oz Reposado Tequila

1/2 oz Mezcal

1 tsp Raw Agave Nectar*

2 dashes Xocolatl Mole bitters*

Garnish with a grapefruit peel

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*We were unable to find the mole bitters, so we substituted with something called “Big Bear” from Crude small batch bitters of Raleigh, NC. (Drink local!) We’ll update if and when we’re able to find the real thing.

Galley adaptation: If you’re out of fresh fruit on the boat, as can happen to a sailor, 1 dash grapefruit bitters may be substituted for the peel.

Instructions: Add all ingredients except the grapefruit peel to a mixing jar or shaker filled with ice (but don’t shake this), stir until cold, and pour into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice; express grapefruit peel into glass, wipe around rim of the glass, and drop into the drink.

Optional build directly in a glass: Add all ingredients except the grapefruit peel to a rocks glass filled with ice, stir until cold; express grapefruit peel into glass, wipe around rim of the glass, and drop into the drink.

Building directly into the glass will result in a slightly stronger drink, since you haven’t watered down the ingredients by stirring in a mixing jar with other ice first.

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Bespoke cocktail selection by Adam Neizmik, adapted from Phillip Ward’s “Oaxaca Old-Fashioned.”

Boat Drinks Part 1 – The “Good Ship”

YouTube – how to “express an orange peel” – it works for grapefruit, too.

The Importance of Being Ballast

“I get knocked down, but I get up again.” – Chumbawamba (Tubthumping)

We awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of a crash. Actually, it was more like several small crashes – bang, bang, bang, bang! I rolled out of my berth and walked downhill to the head. The noise that had awoken us was that of every bottle of shampoo, conditioner, and cleanser falling from the wall ledges down to the floor of the tub. Seeing that nothing was broken, I turned around, proceeded to walk uphill with some effort, and climbed back into bed. The National Hurricane Center’s historical HURDAT database shows no cyclone activity in the Atlantic during the time frame that we made our crossing. Whatever it was, the wind had the boat at an impressive heel angle. Port was downhill; starboard was up.

Windswept, Atlantic Ocean, 2016.

The next day at noon, the Captain calmly explained in his daily radio address how he had simply shifted the boat’s ballast from one side to the other. It is a somewhat slow process, however he managed to right the boat so that we all enjoyed a pleasant night’s sleep. Our cabin was on the starboard side, meaning that as we headed west, the north wind heeled the boat to port. We were on the ninth deck, which seemed to amplify the magnitude of the angle, if only in my midnight mind.

The Atlantic Ocean, kicked up a bit, as viewed from the 9th deck.
The weather couldn’t keep us from our formal dinner.

The “boat” was the Queen Mary 2, and the Captain was Christopher Wells. We were crossing from Southampton to New York in August of 2016. Less than a year later, when called upon by the Canadian Coast Guard, Captain Wells would lead the QM2 on a daring rescue mission to save a fellow mariner whose sailboat, Tamarind, had become disabled in a violent storm during a transatlantic race. Again Captain Wells had to employ the movable ballast, placing QM2 broad side to the wind to shield Tamarind and the ship’s fast rescue boat, who retrieved the solo sailor. The skipper of the sailing vessel Tamarind was given safe passage back to land in a cabin aboard the ocean liner Queen Mary 2.

A small sailboat as viewed from the 9th deck of the Queen Mary 2, Southampton, 2016.

Ballast, oddly enough, was the behind my decision to become a sailor in the first place. When I arrived in Boston to begin my studies at MIT, I knew that I wanted to join a sports team. Not tennis – I’d tried that in high school. Fencing held some interest for me, as did crew. I had, at least, rowed a boat on the water before. In the end, the sailing team’s Assistant Coach had the best sales pitch. “We’re looking for small people who can move fast and act as movable ballast.” Once I’d looked up what “ballast” was, I figured I’d fit the part, even though I had never even been on a sailboat.

Sailing a little cat, the fast boat of the MIT Sailing fleet, Charles River, Boston, circa 2000.

It also didn’t hurt that while the crew team practiced early in the morning, sailing practice was in the warm late summer afternoons. I bought my Gill gloves and boots, and eventually both a wetsuit and a drysuit, and had a blissful few years on the team, tugging on jib sheets and jumping back and forth across the centerboard with every “roll tack.” Years later, I would find myself explaining to Harv that in college, we bought Gill because we couldn’t afford Patagonia.

Siar heeled to port, water splashing over the lee rail, Tampa Bay, Florida, 2021.

My best job ever was at the sailing pavilion. I spent the summer rigging Tech Dinghy boats for alumni to day sail and taking folks out on the Charles river for short cruises aboard the fleet’s Rhodes 19s. Part of my job involved running around the river on a little skiff with a pump and a generator, assisting anyone who’d failed to shift their “movable ballast” correctly – or quickly – thus capsizing their boat. I myself have gone “in the drink” (overboard) many times on a capsized Tech Dinghy. When the Standells sang of “that dirty water” of the Charles, they weren’t kidding.

Ballast installation. On her way to 7,500 lbs.

The morning of November 16th, 2020, we received some interesting pictures from Darrell Allen, owner and president of Island Packet Yachts. Darrell had been documenting the construction of our Island Packet 349, sending us pictures of her and updates from Florida, while we sat in offices in chilly central North Carolina, our dreams floating ever south. November 16th was the day that our ballast was installed. It was laid deep in the keel, to be covered by layer upon layer of construction, up to the cabin sole. It need never be seen nor thought of again, except for the fact that its purpose is to keep the bottom of the boat in the water and her topsides above it.

Before the ballast. Yes, he’s standing in our keel.
Ballast, complete.

When a sailing dinghy capsizes, as it lays on its side in the water, you stand on the centerboard. The downward force causes the boat to right. A keelboat has her own “righting moment.” The theory behind the design is that should the boat be “knocked down” by a wave, mast to the water, she will roll upright. It has happened to other Island Packets. I’ve linked below to a tale from the Captain of S/V Flying Fish. His entire blog is beautiful, fascinating, and inspiring. Be prepared to set aside some time for binge reading.

In more pleasant conditions, the ballasted keel’s job is to moderate the angle of heel. This delights me, as I just can’t seem to shake the small boat sailor from my brain or body. The first time we got a good heel on our old Cheoy Lee, Westward, I instinctively jumped to the high side of the boat. Captain Lee got a good laugh out of it. “Al,” he said, “this boat weighs thousands of pounds. Your weight is not going to help.” He was correct. A Tech Dinghy is light enough to be pulled out of the water and on to the dock by two people. Aboard our full keel Cheoy Lee, I wasn’t much use as movable ballast.

A proper heel to starboard, Tampa Bay, Florida.

Years later, sailing aboard Siar in Tampa Bay, I again found I have a strong preference for the high side. When I tried to warn Harv by explaining that I’d learned to sail on small boats, he answered “me too.” Well, he’s also raced on the open ocean and delivered yachts between continents. We got her up to nine knots with a deep heel, the bay gushing over the lee rail. Eventually Harv agreed to let me “flatten her out” a bit. Of course, we lost a knot and a half of speed.

Harv didn’t mind the heel at all.

On our way back from that sail, we stopped to practice with our anchor windlass in the basin. A summer sailing camp was practicing in a fleet of sailing dinghies. We waved and took pictures. Despite the light air, one of the dinghy boats capsized. I watched as it lay helpless on its side, the sailors waiting for the camp instructor to assist in righting. Harv must have seen the look on my face. He took both my hands, still clad in worn Gill gloves, in his own, looked me in the eye and said, “I promise you, that’s not going to happen to your boat.” And I have to believe him. I have to believe that with her 7,500 lbs of ballast, if Siar gets “knocked down,” she’ll get back up again. I have to trust in the boat, if not yet in myself. The next time I sail aboard the Queen Mary 2, I intend to have bought a ticket.

Summer sailing camp, St. Petersburg, Florida. All boats righted.

Footnote: In April of 2021, Christopher Wells retired after 20 years with the Cunard line. In recognition of his outstanding service, he was awarded the rank of Commodore. Highlights of his career include 25 years with the Royal Navy Reserve, participation in the commissioning of the Queen Mary 2, over a decade as her Captain, and of course, a rescue at sea. Well done, Commodore, and congratulations.

Links / further reading:

BBC account of the Queen Mary 2’s rescue of Mervyn Wheatley aboard Tamarind

An account from the middle of the Ocean aboard Island Packet 460 Flying Fish

YouTube – Tubthumping by Chumbawamba (Official Music Video)

Feeling Irish

“West Wind or something like that.” – Jim, the former owner of our 1967 Cheoy Lee Offshore Ketch, trying to recall her original name

What’s in a name? To us, a lot. We’ve been called all sorts of things on the water: Sire, Seer, Star. (I admit I rather like being called “Star.”) Our boat’s actual name, “Siar,” is an Irish word, and it honors our history. The Irish Dictionary online offers sample pronunciations in three regional dialects across Ireland. Our home port is in the southern United States, so to those who know North Carolina geography, the best I can tell you is to just pronounce the first syllable of “Charlotte.” Got it?

Bridgetender, this is Sailing Vessel “Mi Luv”

When Lee and I bought our first sailboat together, her name was “Mi Luv.” Jim, who sold her to us, had bought her with the inheritance he received from his grandmother, and “Mi Luv” had been Grandma’s nickname for him. Adorable, and very personal for him, no doubt. For us, after having to identify ourselves as “Mi Luv” to dozens of bridge tenders along the Intracoastal Waterway, it was time for a new name.

My brother, Adam, had made a generous gift to our boat’s library, including a book titled Why Didn’t I Think of That. The authors, John and Susan Roberts, had collected and organized nearly 1,200 tips for cruising sailors, covering everything from maintenance to cooking to passage making. Originally published in 1997, some tips are outdated (fax machines, page 65), but many remain timeless (watch standing, page 85). On page 14 of the book, we found a description of a stern rail gate hand made by the owner of a 31-foot ketch. The sailboat’s name? “Westward.”

A welcome addition to our boat library

We examined our stern rail, and sure enough, there was the gate, hand cut by former owner Dave, and as described in the book, “secured by stainless steel sleeves that slip over the rail ends.” Soon afterwards, Lee was down in cockpit locker, working on something no doubt, when he found the word “Westward” carved inside the hull. That was all it took – we knew our boat’s name.

Captain Lee, with sailing vessel “Westward,” Washington, NC

We brought Westward to a DIY boatyard in Washington, North Carolina. Along with new bottom paint and other fixes and upgrades, I hand cut stencils of her name and hailing port. We’d elected to change her accent color from blue to dark green, and so in dark green I painted “Westward” and “Washington, NC” on her transom. With the work completed, we re-launched. Captain Lee guided Westward to her slip with the aid of his childhood best friend. We re-christened our beloved Cheoy Lee with the aid of several friends and a bottle of champagne.

The first mate pours a little Champagne

The Captain has his best ideas in the water, whether it’s on a boat, in the shower, or in the hot tub at our “land house.” It was there that he proposed the name for our soon-to-be Island Packet. “Siar.” Lee had been lucky enough to travel to Ireland for a study abroad program during his undergraduate years at Elon College. He fell in love with Ireland, and when he first took me there in 2013, so did I. We’d vacation there for a week or two at a time, roughly every year and a half, for the next five years. Galway, Cork, Spiddal, Milltown Malbay, Clifden, Letterfrack, Fanore.

“Siar” is the closest Irish translation to “Westward.”

2020 shut down any immediate travel plans for us. It also left us with a lot of free time on our hands. One of our more productive projects was studying the Irish language. The Irish (Gaelic) language is experiencing a comeback, especially in the areas of western Ireland that we love to visit. Children are learning to speak it in school. It’s nothing the be sitting in a pub in Connemara and hear the 18-or-so year old bartender speak to us in English and to the local clientele in Irish. We have a lot to learn – Irish is a verb-subject-object language, and it has no indefinite article. Our learning so far has been enough to inspire the name – “Siar” is the closest Irish translation to “Westward.”

My hand painted transom (trust me, it’s dark green)

So there you have it. Our new boat, that we hope to some day make our home, is named for our old boat, that once was our home, and in a language to honor the place and people we adore. Will we ever sail Siar to Ireland? Writing from my “Captain’s Chair” in her salon, the scent of a fall apple hazelnut crumble baking in the oven, everything seems possible.

Siar’s transom art

Siar’s name and hailing port of Beaufort, North Carolina, along with a Celtic Cross, grace her transom in a lovely dark green. We christened Siar on a warm, dark evening in St. Petersburg, Florida, June 2021. We were aided by a bottle of champagne, of course, and Lee’s childhood best friend, who’d also been our travel companion on our last trip to Ireland. “May all who sail aboard her…”

Slainte!

Links / further reading:

The Irish Dictionary entry on “Siar” https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/siar

Amazon link to Why Didn’t I Think of That

Apple hazelnut crumble recipe. Note, I add 1 tsp cinnamon and 1/8 tsp allspice to the filling. https://www.food.com/recipe/apple-hazelnut-crumble-293253

Boat Drinks Part 1 – The Good Ship

Some ingredients for the “Good Ship”

“May all your drinks be boat drinks with friends.” JD Spradlin, Radio Margaritaville DJ

Greetings from the bar aboard Siar!

We’ve asked the first mate’s brother, Adam, to design a menu of four cocktails for the four holidays in our calendar year. The first is the boat’s “birthday,” October 2nd, the official start of her construction at Island Packet Yachts. Read more about it over at our Construction post. Recipe below.

The “Good Ship”

1 oz Irish Whiskey

1 oz Mezcal

1/2 oz Benedectine

2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

Garnish with an orange peel

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This is an easy one for a boat – it can be made in a mixing jar, or built directly in the glass over 1 large ice cube.

Mixing Jar: Add all ingredients except the orange peel to a mixing jar (your shaker would be fine, but don’t shake this) filled with ice, stir until cold, and pour into a rocks glass filled with one large ice cube; express orange peel into glass, wipe around rim of the glass, and drop into the drink.

Build directly in a glass: Add all ingredients except the orange peel to a rocks glass filled with one large ice cube, stir until cold; express orange peel into glass, wipe around rim of the glass, and drop into the drink.

Building directly into the glass will result in a slightly stronger drink, since you haven’t watered down the ingredients by stirring in a mixing jar with other ice first.

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Bespoke cocktail selection by Adam Neizmik, adapted from Phillip Ward’s “Good Cork.”

YouTube – how to “express an orange peel”

Gallery – Construction

Just for fun. Some more photos from Siar’s construction: 2020 – 2021. Happy scrolling.

Hull layup
Hull layup
Exterior of the hull, joined to the transom
Ballast in the keel
Siar’s deck in flight
The deck joins the headliner
View from below decks
Fitting out the deck
A little teak trim (Allison enjoys varnishing)
One happy first mate!
Under construction, looking starboard
Pretty pieces, prior to varnish
Cabin sole prior to installation
Almost whole
All put together
Interior trim-out, starboard, looking forward
Interior trim-out, starboard, looking aft
Bow rail added
Ready for her close-up (and nights on the hook)
Stern view, under construction
Stern view, preparing to depart the factory for Launch Day
Stern view, all decked out and ready to sail

Construction

“Oh, you’re young.” – Darrell Allen, Owner/President, Island Packet Yachts

Most prospective buyers of something like a brand new 38 foot sailboat begin with a factory tour, but as it was the summer of 2020, our first introduction to the team at Island Packet Yachts was on Zoom. Darrell seemed pleasantly surprised at how “young” we were. “Leslie,” he said, “you’ve got to meet these people.” Leslie is Darrell’s wife, co-owner and Vice President of IPY, and wearer of multiple hats at the company. We had been referred by a yacht broker, but we would be working directly with the two of them throughout the build and delivery process.

It was Lee who chose Island Packet to build our dream boat. We’d been in the market for a new “yacht” since we sold our old Cheoy Lee ketch. We’d considered other manufacturers, in particular Pacific Seacraft. We were living in Chapel Hill when they moved their manufacturing to North Carolina. We were also intrigued by the concept of the Seaward Yachts, with the retractable keel. It was actually a Seaward dealer who introduced us to Island Packet. The full keel design caught our attention. Our Cheoy Lee had been a full keel boat. Maybe it was the familiarity, or the notions of comfort and safety that the design carries. Or maybe it was the crisp white Island Packet hat that arrived in the mail with the interior wood sample we’d requested. Nice move, Darrell.

Siar’s full keel, port side
Keel & rudder under construction – photo: AW
Starboard side view

It’s no secret that under former ownership, options for a new Island Packet were few. It was quite the Henry Ford – the customer can have the Model T in any color as long as it’s black – kind of mentality. For our build, though, we could choose from lots of options. The rig: Solent. The power: Solar. The main salon layout: Two Captain’s chairs, please and thank you. At my request, they are height-adjustable (I’m 5’3″).

When I asked how wide the bottle slots in the “bar” were, Darrell and Leslie reached out to the Island Packet owners’ group on Facebook. Based on their feedback, the bar cabinet got a redesign to accommodate bottles of different widths. That’s important.

The “bar” cabinet – photo: AW

We are only the third model-349 to feature the light maple interior. Make no mistake, this is not the European flat slab and right angle look. Louvered doors, sculpted moldings, and the impeccably constructed sapele and maple cabin sole help maintain the traditional aesthetic. It’s just so light and bright inside the cabin. We selected the classic ivory hull that has become a hallmark of Island Packet Yachts. It’s how we recognize one another on the water.

Cabin sole under construction – photo: LW
Joinery of the cabin sole – photo: AW

Construction was slated to begin on Monday, October 5th, 2020. We’d planned a special “birthday” celebration for that evening. In our excitement of selecting the design options, we’d had many calls, texts, and emails with Darrell. The best so far came on Friday, October 2nd. From Darrell: “You can have a toast tonight. We actually started your headliner today.”

The headliner
The IGU under construction
The IGU righted in the hull

Progress photos followed almost weekly, mostly by text. Darrell: “IGU coming out of the mold.” Us: “What’s an IGU?” Answer: it’s the internal grid unit, the skeleton for all of the fiberglass tanks, compartments, and other storage areas that will hold all that we need for weekend trips or longer cruises. The hull layup was fascinating, especially when pictured at about a 90 degree heel angle (hopefully we won’t experience that angle again any time soon).

Hull layup of our Island Packet 349 was no small feat

The lead ballast went into the keel on November 16th. Other sailors have written more eloquently about it, but this method of construction lends to the stability – and durability – of our boat. We marked it as an annual holiday on Google Calendar, because “Ballast Day” sounds like a good name for a holiday.

Soon, the parts started coming together. A crane picked up our deck to connect it to the headliner. Another lowered the IGU into the now righted hull. From my personal journal, December 15th : “This morning Darrell sent a picture of the IGU fully glassed in to the hull. It is truly awesome. We’re starting to recognize the interior of our boat at week 11!” Following that, everything that you don’t see from the exterior or interior of our boat was installed: plumbing, wiring, tanks and gauges, and the all important 45 horse power Yanmar diesel engine. Bulkheads went in, and the interior “rooms” began to take shape. Aft cabin, salon, galley, head, forward cabin.

The IGU is lifted from the mold…
… and lowered into the hull
The Yanmar diesel engine

We were fortunate enough to finally be able to visit to the Island Packet factory in March of 2021. Being that we both work in manufacturing, we were excited to start with a factory tour, until Darrell asked “Don’t you want to meet your boat first?” We approached her from the stern. I admit, standing beneath her hull, I found the sight of the full keel comforting. We walked up the stairs to the decking that surrounded her and looked down into the hull. Dedicated carpenters and electricians were assembling the structure and systems that would become Siar. Their pride in their work was palpable.

“Rooms,” including the door to the aft cabin “guest quarters. New IPY-439 in the background.

One “option” we’d requested was to remove the standard-issue microwave. The carpentry team had mocked up a storage cabinet in it’s place, with two door options from which I could choose. I am thankful for that extra storage space every time we make a pot of coffee aboard Siar.

Looking into my future galley – photo: AW
Finished cabinet, where the coffee cups hide – photo: AW

We continued our tour through the factory until we came to Siar’s deck. The off-white headliner had been fully installed, complete with opening ports and LED light fixtures. “Lee,” I said, “there are so many lights in here!” I climbed up on her deck to inspect the installation in progress of the teak eyebrow rail – another option of my choosing. Impressed by the width of the forward deck, I commented that I’d be able to throw down a yoga mat and train up there. Ever practical, Darrell chimed in, “you know there’s a boom there, right?” Months later in St. Petersburg, I would be proven correct.

My first time below the deck – photo: AW
The teak eyebrow, to keep the first mate busy varnishing – photo: AW
Pretty sure I can fit a yoga mat up here – photo: LW
I was correct – photo: AW

The Island Packet factory was not spared the brunt of Covid-19, nor was our build. Crafting a customized sailing yacht that is modern in performance but classic in style requires many individual and highly specialized skills, and these skills are not easily replaced when one person, or even one department, is out sick. By the original schedule, on our visit in mid-March we would have seen the final touches on Siar: interior varnish, cushions and chairs. As it happened, the deck joined the hull about a week after we departed. Incidentally (ok – significantly) the entire interior is built out before the first coat of varnish is applied. A total of 4 coats were applied to all of the interior wood at once, for a noticeably uniform finished appearance. That was only after the entirety of our cabin interior was trimmed out by just one person. One solo, skilled craftsman. Thank you, Donimic, she’s beautiful.

It’s really starting to look like a galley

As our revised delivery date approached, Darrell and Leslie had to head up to Ohio to deliver 349 hull number 16. Their YouTube video is worth a watch. Upon returning to Florida, Darrell sent photos of our Siar in a sling, complete with bottom paint, forest green boot stripe, and polished ivory hull. On June 9th, she was loaded onto a truck for the short drive south to Salt Creek Boat Works in St. Petersburg. Once there, she was lowered into the water to undergo rigging. We celebrate June 9th as “Splash Day.”

Slainte!

Glamour shot #1 – bow
Glamour shot #1 – stern
Siar departs the Island Packet factory and heads for the sea

Unless otherwise noted, all photos courtesy of Island Packet Yachts

Links:

YouTube – SV Cavu sailing on Lake Erie

YouTube – Tour of Siar prior to leaving the factory