Bay Tripper - Soundings Online

Bay Tripper

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2,147 day sails ... and counting

2,147 day sails ... and counting

In little harbors with little boats, one can usually find determined local day sailors relentlessly pursuing their beloved sport, in some cases on an almost daily basis and, at least in the coastal Carolinas, every month of the year. I come fairly close to filling this bill in seasonal sailing out of Annapolis, Md. — my home port — where there are hundreds of sailboats of all sizes, many of which leave the dock only periodically, another good reason for downsizing to a smaller boat that can be single-handed.

I regularly splash around my large, super bowl of boating between the Chesapeake Bay bridges to the north and Thomas Point Lighthouse to the south, a more than 5-by-5-mile expanse of open water interrupted by Kent Island on the Eastern Shore. But up and down the Eastern Seaboard’s little harbors, day sailing nuts are out there in small boats.

One fellow I came across this summer on a visit to Oak Island, N.C., is a nautical carpetbagger who sails out of Southport, a charming maritime village on the Cape Fear River. Norm Greisen is a 62-year-old armchair mathematician who arrived in the Tar Heel State four years ago from New York. He likes to track things by the numbers and has a logbook that records 2,147 day sails — as of early October — since he began sailing more than 30 years ago. He’s logged 664 day sails in North Carolina alone.

“I try to sail nearly every day of the year, depending on weather conditions,” says Greisen. “I make daily entries in my logbook, noting weather conditions and other observations. Last winter, for example, I counted 21 sailing days in November, 13 in December and January, and 10 in February.” His daily outings are governed by strong currents that he controls to his advantage by usually going out and coming back in with the tides.

Greisen sails the only boat he has ever owned: an O’Day Mariner 19 he and his late wife, Barbara, bought new at the New York Boat Show in January 1972. Miss Behaven still has its original blue color, but Greisen has added some equipment, like a Schaefer roller-furler and, last January, a 4-hp Yamaha 4-stroke. The fiberglass centerboarder could fit into the pocket cruiser category, but Greisen wouldn’t know much about that.

“Barbara and I sailed this boat for 31 years out of Manhasset Bay in western Long Island Sound, but we did only one overnight on board. That was enough,” he recalls.

A native of Mendota, Ill., and a graduate of Bradley University, Greisen earned his master’s degree at New York University in a special category of industrial engineering. He spent 31 years with Chase Manhattan Bank, working on technological banking systems, before retiring to Indigo Plantation, a short bike ride from his boat. He keeps Miss Behaven at a marina next to the Bald Head Island ferry landing, unaware that John Barry, a mate on the ferry, had been watching him regularly from on deck while going to and from Bald Head Island on passenger runs. They often exchanged waves.

“Sailing the waters of Cape Fear is an enjoyable and stimulating experience,” says Greisen. “You can sail out into the coastal waters of the Atlantic, up the Cape Fear River toward Wilmington, or along the Intracoastal Waterway. I especially like sailing just offshore south of Oak Island, and in a small boat like the O’Day Mariner it can be a great adventure.”

Barry, a relative newcomer to the area, initially spent several summers chasing “feeeesh,” as they say in the local dialect, when he rediscovered sailing. “I had left sailing and gone to a trailerable Grady-White powerboat for tournament fishing,” he says. “But I envied Greisen. He was out there obviously enjoying himself so much on a daily basis. It made me start wondering why I had ever abandoned my own sailing roots.”

Drawing on this inspiration and troubled by soaring gas prices — which he is sure will return — Barry grew weary of dealing with crowded launch ramps. This led him to ponder a return to the bright side of boating and a search for the right daysailer. At first he looked for an old O’Day Mariner, which rides a Rhodes 19 hull, after watching and meeting Greisen to check out his boat. Last spring, however, he bought a well-maintained 1969 R-19 centerboarder (hull No. 1637) in Chicago for $2,900. It came with a trailer, cradle, 1998 sails and the original set, and a 1987 Mercury 4-hp outboard.

The 62-year-old bachelor named her Brown-Eyed Girl, after his black English Lab, Sally.

The classic Rhodes 19, also available in a fixed-keel version, is a traditional Phil Rhodes design in production since the late 1950s. Almost 4,000 have been launched, and they are currently built by Stuart Marine in Rockland, Maine. “I like the boat because it’s stiff, stable, light and fairly wide,” says Barry. “It has beautiful lines and an open cuddy cabin, where a black dog can find shade on a sunny day.”

At first he rigged the boat at launching ramps for every sail but soon tired of that. He began looking for a rental slip and found one right next to Greisen. Now the two of them are out there, and Barry, on his days off, exchanges waves with the rotating on-duty crews aboard the ferry.

It was Barry whom I was visiting this summer — to check out his new, old boat — when I ran into Greisen. Barry and I arranged to sail in tandem with Greisen for a while until we branched off to sail around a small regatta under way in the ocean off Bald Head Island. Greisen went off alone, preferring the company of wildlife to sailboats circling marks. I was quite surprised at how well the R-19 performed, perhaps because it is several hundred pounds lighter than a Mariner 19, even though we numbered two men and one slim woman. We went out four times in four days but left Sally home.

As nice as it was sailing around the mouth of the Cape Fear River in much clearer water than the Chesapeake, there isn’t much cruising to be done except out and back. On the Chesapeake, however, one can always find a short destination at which to drop the hook for lunch or an overnight. Even so, I can understand the passionate lure of sailing for its own sake that has captivated both Greisen and Barry.

I have been day sailing five miles across the Bay for many years — rounding Thomas Point Light or going up to (or under) the Bay bridges and then back to Annapolis and my slip off Spa Creek. Generally speaking, there are no strong currents to be concerned about, unless you’re racing.

Once out of the Cape Fear River, on the other hand, one encounters 4- and 5-foot swells (a rare occurrence on the Bay). But the wildlife is more exciting — with dolphins and manta rays leaping from the water — and the boating season is longer. Still, severe storms and hurricanes can be a nuisance and sometimes end sailing prematurely.

But you make the best of what you have and where you are. I have few complaints, as long as I am out on the water somewhere, able to function, pulling all the right strings, and getting in and out of my dock alone. No golf for me, and certainly no physically demanding contact sports with bats and racquets and balls. Sailing is a participation sport that, thankfully, can be pursued in a seated position — a plus for us senior sailors with legs gone wobbly.

Jack Sherwood is writer at large for Soundings.