Camping Out on a Boat

One of the main reasons I bought Hvit Skygge was for the ability to sleep aboard during multi-night trips. Labor Day 2015 was my chance to try it out. I decided to go to Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary on the upper Patuxent River for the inaugural test. Jug Bay is a drowned oxbow with peaceful shallow waters divided up into isolated sections by spatterdock (a kind of water-lily with small yellow flowers). At that point, the Patuxent is a tidal river, with a range that can exceed four feet. Fresh water rides on top of salt as the tides ebb and flow. The area is secluded, entirely bordered by a park and wildlife preserve and has no access by road at night. It would be just me, the boat and the critters. It would also be my first stop on the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail (do you suppose they could have put any more words into the name?).

Since Jug Bay is not really suited for sailing, I left the spars, sail and rigging at home and just rowed. This picture shows the boat configured as a rowing camp cruiser. The sliding seat has been stowed for the night. One interesting feature is how uncluttered the cockpit is. That's because of the forward hold, aft cabin and the storage lockers under the benches. Objects, such as the icebox, are in the cockpit for convenience, not because they have to be.

Sunset over Jug Bay. The park gates are locked, the rangers have gone home. The tides go out and Hvit Skygge settles into the mud aided by 270 pounds of water ballast. I launched and rowed without the ballast but, in the interests of a more stable night, filled the tanks after anchoring. Speaking of anchors, I was using an 8 pound galvanized Danforth with 5 feet of galvanized chain and 1/2 inch nylon rode. The anchor and chain disappeared into the mud when dropped. The forward draining anchor well is visible in the picture. Between the trees on the horizon and the spatterdock in the foreground are wild rice plants, glowing in the waning sunlight.

As it got darker, my thoughts turned to bed. This view shows the rear cabin with self-inflating mattress on the cedar floorboards. Part of the floorboards are removable for access to a storage area underneath.

The aft cabin from the camper's point of view. The interior above the floorboards is covered with an insulated liner to prevent condensation of exhaled water (the average person exhales over 1/2 cup of water during a night's sleep - imagine that dripping down onto you). Some folks have referred to this as a "coffin cabin", but as you can see, there's plenty of room. There's even room at the aft end for my spare dry clothing. The rear bulkhead is the front of the aft anchor well.

The sense of space inside the cabin is enhanced in good weather by leaving the hatch open. Of course, if you do that, there's going to be mosquitos. So do remember to bring along a bug net. Here you can see the waning quarter moon through mine.

The mosquito behavior on this trip was interesting. Since I was anchored a good 1/4 mile from the woods, most of the time there were no mosquitoes. They seemed to be staying close to their food. The only time I was bothered was at dusk and dawn. Then, a large number of them rose and came calling, but after about 1/2 an hour of trying to get through the net they gave up and went elsewhere. During the night I was able to sit out on deck with no bugs.

I also tried closing the hatch to test the passive ventilation system. It very quickly became stuffy and humid. The stock vents just don't work all that well, at least not without a breeze. I'll be looking into improving that this season either by installing more and larger vents or installing small electric fans.

It was hard to get to sleep, but not because of the boat. Rather it was novelty of being out on the water at night. It was a clear and surprisingly dark sky, considering that Washington, DC was just 11 miles away. The Milky Way was visible from horizon to horizon. In addition to the planets and stars, there were satellites and even a meteor fireball that looked for all the world as if it was going to land in DC. I also seemed to be in line with the departure path for either Dulles or National airport, couldn't tell which. While none of the jets flew over me, between takeoff and turning away they were shining their landing lights right at me.

The animal world was having its say, too. There was a large flock of Canada geese on the ground for the night about a mile away. They were acting just like a bunch of little girls at a slumber party - a constant background of quiet honking that every now and then erupted into a loud series of squawks and gabbles, as if someone had told a good joke to an appreciative audience. It was more likely that it was a case of "Hey stupid! You stepped on me!", but I liked the idea of comedian geese.

And if the land and sky weren't enough distraction, there was the aquatic world. The shallow areas are filled with killifish, which are small fish that jump when they feel threatened. They swim in schools that are large enough that when the group feels threatened they make the water appear to boil. Some of the more athletic ones jump completely out of the water for a distance of several feet. During the night, the boat was surrounded by these fish and every time they took a scare, they'd jump, bang into the boat and wake me up. At times it felt as if I was trying to sleep in a drum.

Eventually fatigue won and I fell asleep for the duration. In the morning I woke up to the sun coming in through the portholes. Even though they were dirty, they added substantially to the feeling of space inside the cabin. The morning mosquito assault was almost over, so after a bit I was able to get on deck and have breakfast, pack up, row back to the dock and head home.

Hvit Skygge is a very usable camp cruiser. The ability to reconfigure it between sailing and rowing make it useful on both restricted and open waters. The large amount of below-decks storage space makes keeping the cockpit free of clutter easy. Having a bed always set up means that one can travel further in a day since less time has to be allocated to set up camp. Having that camp below the low tide line also means that one can travel and stay in places where every inch of shoreline is spoken for. The Faering Cruiser design is just what a Chesapeake dinghy cruiser needs. Over the next few years of vacations I'll be wandering the John Smith Trail in mine.

Page 1 - The Faering Cruiser Hvit Skygge
Page 2 - Modifications
Page 3 - So Now I Have a Cruiser
Page 5 - A Quick Spring Sunday Sail
Page 6 - Okoumefest 2016
Page 7 - Mid Atlantic Small Craft Festival 2017

Copyright © 2016 László I. Mórocz. All Rights Reserved.

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