C'est La Vie

In 2021 from mid-May through early September's zenith of the hurricane season, 10 foot 4 inch Clam Girl didn't sail. She'd been under the stilt house, growing her intricate tent pole sockets for her tent-to-be.

The third week in September tides were fine for sailing but I missed them. Instead, on a warm October day I rode with Marian Buszko in Tortuga, his 17 foot daysailer converted to an outboard runabout. We grinned like children when a few dolphins paralleled us within a marine mammal's hair of the hull.

CLC Eastport Ultralight dinghy Twenty minutes later, sliding along at six knots in water we could've stood in-KAWOOSH. The boat rocked violently; we staggered and caught our balance. Her starboard bow was lifted by a frothy-brown, five foot wide boil. Tectonic plate jiggle!? More likely a muttering, cursing manatee, or maybe a Leatherback sea turtle? Cedar Keys' rich, turbid water hides everything.

October 18th and 19th Clam Girl sailed in the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge. The morning of the 19th, 9-12 knot northeasterlies gusting 15 vanquished vicious no-see-'em gnats, attacking from the ramp's lee. Close reaching single reef north, her wake sparkled between oyster bars. Off Deer Island she gybed and reached south a mile to "Bird Point," as Karen and I call it. Scads of dragonflies hovered behind the beach cusp. I photographed a bird's profile.

One flaw in Clam Girl's rig reappeared on the broad-off return in the failing breeze to the Shell Mound ramp-the battens don't flip to leeward in light air as readily as other full-batten sails. Mast hoops, one sailmaker said, are the culprit.

Bolger Fieldmouse, courtesy Josh Colvin Reviewing the day's photos, I saw the bird was a sparrow. Sharp-tailed? Nelson's? Saltmarsh?

Last spring a man strode to the ramp. He was dressed like a generic park ranger, but more dapper and had 'king's ransom' binoculars. "Hi," I said, before he tromped by. "What bird are you looking for?" He named a sparrow I'd heard of, and have forgotten since.

I emailed the photo of the Bird Point sparrow to Ida Little. She thought maybe a Seaside Sparrow.

The next day's wind seemed weaker, and northeasterlies were forecast to lighten and clock. With zeal to identify the sparrow, full sail proved too much, so I feathered and tacked to Bird Point. Had I been reefed, I think Clam Girl could've pointed it without tacking. No sparrow. I reefed on the beach near the Point and looked further.

Bolger Fieldmouse, courtesy Josh Colvin Leaving Bird Point, I tacked too soon. In seconds Clam Girl's leeboards bounced and she was shoved by surge, almost onto the beach. Rather than grab the fend-off paddle from the three paddles underfoot, I tried to tack but she didn't come around. A ragged, clattering gybe did it, though, with the sheet's cam-cleat block banging gun'l to gun'l.

The new port tack was a mile's salubrious reach south, around the "Derrick Key Gap" daymarks, a half mile off McClamory Key. Hurricane Hermine washed Derrick away five years ago. Still substantial and beautiful McClamory is ablating quickly.

On McClamory's north beach during lunch, the wind veered and fell, but I kept the single reef. Why hurry back off the wind? The bow chuckled quietly and the shore moved by too fast anyway, still with the flood. The leeboards, 3/4s up, whispered rivulets. The transom left a soft sizzle. At the ramp, no-see-'ems were gone.

Bolger Fieldmouse, courtesy Josh Colvin November 4th. Autumn, gray with wispy fog early, thick vest over extra shirts. NE 8-12, G14. Starboard tack north from the ramp, scraping through oysters to Deer Island Sound.

Man overboard drill! A foam pad blew out. The first attempt was like the sloppy gybe at Bird Point. Next two tries the pad tangled with the leeboard. The fourth time I got it, though still moving too fast-rare for Clam Girl. 'Think patience.'

Continued to a lee in the marsh, under the west tip of Clark Island. Instead of brailing the boom and sail to the mast, I lowered the sail. Loose hoops give choices. Far over the port quarter, specks of distant birds came closer and became hundreds of soaring White Pelicans.

Bolger Fieldmouse, courtesy Josh Colvin The weekend before Thanksgiving a dozen small boaters came for the half year version of the larger gathering in May. On Seahorse Key's beach with Goke Tomlinson, differences were plain in the shapes of our sails' batten pockets. His are straight; mine deviate enough to force them to twist and edge-set. Goke's battens tack easily.

An eminent birder replied to an Audubon friend, "Looks like a dark Savannah Sparrow. They are highly variable."

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, "The doer alone learneth."

Okay. Clam Girl's tent and new sail are underway, and I'm watching for a "variable" sparrow.


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