The Right Sprite

Sailing World was looking for some sailing writing. So I helped.

Below is a story I relayed about the time I bought a sailboat and tried to race her for a summer on Narragansett Bay, Obviously, it did not go as well as I had dreamed, but it was a pretty fun time nonetheless. This wonderful artwork is provided by Carlo Giambarresi and Morgan Gaynin, and the original post on Sailing World can be found here.



For a one-design class, Sea Sprite owners are a pretty diverse group. Class rules prohibit extreme modifications but allow skippers to place anything anywhere on their boat. As a result, it’s common to see these 1960s Carl Alberg-designed hulls fitted with laminate sails, rigged with all sorts of control lines, and sporting premium topside and bottom paints, perhaps in contrast with its 5-knot hull speed.

Having admired the Sea Sprite for a few years, I was able to pick up one in Provincetown, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod for a high schooler-friendly ­budget and sail it 70 miles or so to Bristol, Rhode Island. After the journey, I settled down with my new project for a winter of boatwork. With a limited budget and the usual time constraints of a high school student, my work list started with new standing rigging, fairing and painting the bottom, building new sails, rebuilding the motor well, varnishing the handrails and hatches, and building a mainsheet traveler. Neighbors were called in, tools were borrowed, advice was heeded, or ignored, as a 17-year-old would. Finally, the snow melted, spring came, and launch day was upon me.

The first few weeks in the water went without calamity. Hopeful to tune the boat before the start of the Sea Sprite ­summer series, I encountered my first real challenge: having no idea how to make it go fast. Perhaps because of variations of the Sea Sprite, finding definitive data about boat setup and trim was difficult, and without a way to measure speed or another exact boat to race against, gauging the effect of changes was next to useless. I’d been trying to understand the intricacies of sail trim, genoa car placement, and shroud tension through months of reading, but in practice, all of this tuning was merely guesswork.

In the starting sequence for the season’s opening race, it became apparent that our crew of high school students had a lot to learn in the ways of the Sea Sprite, not to mention being wildly outclassed by boats with four or five times our years of race experience.

Much of the season was spent following the rest of the fleet around Bristol Harbor, with a few gems of knowledge (no human whisker poles allowed) or wisdom (deck-sweeper jibs aren’t normally worth the visibility impairment) sprinkled throughout. Since our fleet crossed the starting line last to avoid being overtaken by the faster boats in other fleets, it was normal to see half a dozen or more Sea Sprites drifting slowly back toward their ­moorings at the end of the night, long after the sea breeze had faded.

Despite the constant frustration of losing to “those grown-ups” every week, ­Wednesday-night racing was the adventure that made everything go. For starters, the racing was only part of the challenge. Getting the boat to Bristol ­Harbor for Wednesdays was a logistical challenge unto itself: Sail to work on Tuesday, run home, bike to work Wednesday, run to work, sail home Thursday, and then spend the weekend on the next boat project.

Summer came to an end and I moved off to college. Although my boat made it back into the water in subsequent years, the racing wasn’t as much a part of summer as it had been. Eventually, I parted ways with my Sea Sprite, much improved from how I bought her, and I’m happy to see she’s still in the neighborhood. Now safely removed from the fleet, I can enjoy looking out across the harbor on Wednesday nights, watching the races from afar. I like to imagine that some other youth has taken my spot at the back of the fleet.


Day 19: Virginia.

Appalachia is hard to write about. It is both very beautiful and very saddening, and I don’t entirely understand it. Actually, I don’t understand it even a little, so saying “entirely understand it” is a HUGE misstatement.

The land is very beautiful. The mountains and streams are crisp and clear and tall and the valleys are deep and steep and trees are everywhere. So is litter- there is hardly a yard (even on the way up a mountain) without a beer can or soda cup or chip bag, and the closer to Kentucky I go, the more creative the litter gets: chairs, coolers, tires, even an ENTIRE HOUSE, apparently disposed of by pitching it into a ravine.

Coal is big here, and the “Friends of Coal” signage makes me seethe (quietly, so as not to be crushed by a passing pickup truck) and I don’t know what to do. I’m very aware that many people’s livelihoods depend on coal. I am also aware that coal mining is destructive, dangerous, and (often) debilitating. (Deadly, dastardly, despicable, disappointing, dumb- we’re still at the beginning of the alphabet!)

I suppose I’ll have a lot of time to think about this over the next few days.

On a more positive note, I got much more riding done today than I had expected to- AND I don’t have to worry that someone is lost in the Cherokee National Forest. On Wednesday, a young woman was separated from her hiking group, and somehow Crazy Larry’s Hostel became the hub of the volunteer-led search parties to find her. Partly because traveling across the country by bike is a pretty deadline-free activity, but mostly because I felt responsible to help other adventurers when so many people have been so kind to me over the past week, I volunteered to stay in Damascus the extra day and get involved with the search expedition. Ready to go by 8:30, around 9:30 we heard from various Sheriffs that we should sit tight and wait for them, by 10:00 we had heard that the girl had been-at least tentatively- located and confirmed to be safe, and by 11:00 it became apparent that volunteers were not very welcome to aid in the search efforts. So, after a very exciting morning that almost involved some Appalachian Trail hiking and an unplanned visit to Tennessee, I decided that I would be most useful if I vacated my spot I the hostel in case someone else needed it that night. I headed off around noon, and was able to make more than 50 miles before dark, leaving me about 30 miles south of the Virginia-Kentucky border. Some pretty big hills along the way- I think I’ve passed the highest points on the eastern segment of the ride- and then a lot of smooth downhills for the remainder of the afternoon.

Day 18: Damascus, Virginia: A fine rest day.

After getting in to Crazy Larry’s, another landmark of the Appalachian Trail, I spent the (rainy) morning getting some “in-town” work done, mostly replacing my chain with a fresh one generously provided by KMC Chains, sending out some postcards and letters, rediscovering the magic of Icy-Hot, and visiting the supermarket to fuel up for the next leg of the trip/acquire a good load of fruit. Damascus is nestled, as most towns in Appalachia are, in between a number of hills (possibly mountains), as well as right in the middle of the Virginia Heritage Music Trail. Presumably the trail is a serpentine path paved with bluegrass, banjos, and washboards- I haven’t got a radio, but I’ve been imagining bluegrass all day anyways. The Virginia Creeper Trail, a rails-to-trails project, runs through the town (although I would not recommend it to road bikes), and there’s plenty of train paraphernalia about to check out while walking around town. In addition to the chain maintenance, I took some time to update the flag with some new sponsors who have helped out by donating over the last few days, and retouching some of the quickly-wearing ink from the beginning of the trip. I also took a look at the map for the next section of the trip- if the illustration of a coal-filled dump truck on the brochure is anything to go by, it could be an interesting few days of trucks, fossil fuels, and hills. Although it looks like the highest point of the eastern half of the trip is behind me, the vertical profile still promises plenty of hilly fun- hopefully the grades are manageable with the trailer and new supplies- before settling out into the Midwest. After today’s rain, the weather for the next five days looks to be clear as well- good riding and solar charging conditions ought to make for a smooth ride over the next week.

Day 17: Virginia, or, Not So Bad!

*Note* I’m slowly (S L O W L Y) still migrating all these posts from Renewable Ride to Notes from Monomoy. I’m not actually cycling right now.

Today’s the 17th day since I’ve left Providence, and the 14th day of riding. I passed 1,000 miles (ended up at 1,035) today and ended up in Damscus, VA. I’d planned to get here after 13 days of riding, so I guess I’m content to say I’m making good time- considering the flat tires, rain, surprise hills, headset explosion, more rain, long stops, and late starts, an extra day for every 2 weeks on the road isn’t bad.

Today was definitely, definitely a day in the South and presumably a day in Appalachia. Warm weather, the first advertisements for sweet tea, and Confederate flags continue to outnumber American flags by approximately 2.5 to 1. Plentiful sunshine and a blue sky helped make the trail smooth (as well as keep the solar panel charging), and by around second lunchtime (or 14:00), I had made it past the numerous Christmas tree farms and was at the entrance to the Jefferson National Forest’s Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area. Rejoice! The roads were smooth and relatively traffic free except for the passing trucks (which left behind a faint scent of balsam and diesel exhaust) and mostly considerate drivers.

Around these parts of Virginia, it becomes apparent that the state is clearly too large, because the place names are things like “St Clair’s Bottom,” “Mouth of Wilson,” and “Troutvale.” To be fair, it appears that Troutvale is a popular fishing destination, and many of the very many streams in the area do double duty as fish hatcheries, dammed off for a few hundred yards where the trout are raised. Besides hopping back and forth across some prime trout fishing waters, I also intersected the Appalachian Trail several times on my way down to Damascus, which I learned is one of the best-known intersections of the two trails. In town, I also found a great hostel- Crazy Larry’s- who will provide you with FREE STICKERS, and mercifully a library as well- I’ve read The Solar Cookbook about three times so far, and it’s only so useful to learn how to cook chicken korma and keylime pie in a solar oven while you’re biking across the country.

Tomorrow’s a day off- it’s supposed to rain, plus in the last week since DC, it’ll be nice to take a day to stretch out and take a look around, or maybe just to take some time to read books and catch up on the news. After that, it should be about 1 more day’s riding until Kentucky, and according to some, the end of the steepest hills of the ride. 🐙 Keeping my fingers crossed.

R.I.P. Head Racing, 2017-2017

Come and gone already has the 2017 head racing season. In college, the year was split into two seasons, both four months long: autumn (August through November) and spring (February through May). Now, it’s a long, long sprint season that runs mid March through mid August, and a blip of a head racing season that lasts a mere 15 days from the start of the first singles race on Navy Day until the last 500 meters of the quad at Head of the Schuylkill.

That’s not to say that the season wasn’t without significant highlights. A new boat and a win at the Head of the Charles made the short season an exciting one, even if it was bookended by the mild frustration of Navy Day’s boat teething challenges and Head of the Schuylkill’s wicked survival conditions on the racecourse. This season showed that I can have solid races, and  more importantly, that the difference between being just good at rowing and really having a mastery of it is the ability to row a fast race regardless of water conditions- or as someone put it post-race, don’t let the weather affect the margins between yourself and your competitors.

In addition to my own experience racing this summer, observing my teammates and competitors at events over the last few months has helped to shape some of my goals heading into winter training. With luck, 2018 will be a season that can build on the successes of 2017, learn from its failures, and ultimately lead to some very fast races.

Thank you to row2k for the excellent photos this season, as always.

Olympia Traveller

Currently: typing letters on mine. Definitely m best flea market find of the 21st century.

Typewriter Review

Olympia TravellerOlympia Traveller (1969)

By the late 1960s Olympia had perfected the typewriter. While other manufacturers seemed to have lowered their standards, Olympia boldly introduced a line of distinctive typewriters called The Traveller. The style certainly speaks to the age of 2001: A Space Odyssey. While one could never imagine a typewriter floating in space, it has the mechanicals beyond its years and ahead of everybody else. It has everything you could ever need in a typewriter. It’s a writing machine. The keys seem to defy gravity and feel super light to the touch. You can hit supersonic speed and feel confident that your typewriter can keep up. Even the weakest of fingers can operate this typewriter, that it feels like child’s play. But don’t let the color fool you, this is a serious machine.

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