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Lots of boats come to Oriental, some tie up at the Town Dock for a night or two, others drop anchor in the harbor for a while. If you've spent any time on the water you know that every boat has a story. The Shipping News on TownDock.net brings you the stories of the boats that have visited recently.

Camping in the Creeks
Spartina and Annie
September 1, 2020

A
stove, a dedicated berth, a head, and a cabin to keep it all dry. For most coastal cruisers, these are the bare necessities. For camper cruisers, they’re unnecessary amenities. Two such sailors cruised into Oriental this spring.

Four older men stand at a rail overlooking a harbor. They're looking at a boat.
Steve Earley stands at the rail talking with locals. Curt Bowman looks on from the sign post.
A small green sail boat alongside a dock.
Annie at the town dock.

Curt Bowman and Steve Earley cruised their boats, Annie and Spartina, into the harbor for an overnight stay. It wasn’t their first visit to Oriental; they’ve been independently sailing through for years. In 2011, Curt and Annie were featured in the Shipping News.

As before, the small vessels (one tied up at the dock, the other along the bulkhead) drew the eyes of passersby.

Annie is 21 ft Drascombe Longboat Cruiser with a forward cabin. Spartina is even smaller at 17’4”. A John Welsford Pathfinder, the NZ designed boat is open to the elements. While Curt could climb into the cabin of Annie overnight, Steve didn’t have the same option – his nighttime shelter is a boom tent.

For some, cruising already resembles camping. It requires being away from the comforts of home, ‘roughing it’ on the water instead of the woods. The distinction goes back to those ‘amenities’ – what’s there for you and what you bring along.

Annie on the water, with three sails out but luffing.
Annie on the Pamlico Sound. (Steve Earley photo)

“Picture yourself as a backpacker. You would carry your sleeping roll, your camp stove, and your change of clothes on your back,” Steve said. “You’re doing the same thing on a boat. It’s basically day sailing from spot to spot.”

Curt and Steve do exactly that, sailing along the coast – often the Pamlico Sound or the Chesapeake – then ducking into creeks at night to anchor and rest.

A small sailboat is anchored in the water. It's sunrise. There are trees on the bank and fog on the water.
Annie in Whittaker Creek (Steve Earley photo)

Sometimes they cruise alone. Other times they meet up – together or with other camper cruisers – to make the trip. Occasionally Curt and Steve cross paths on the water and just say hello.

Both men are solo sailors, though they’ve taken friends with them in the past. “Less arguments that way,” Steve joked.

Steve and his wife are very independent. “She walked across Spain on her own. And I just thought that was wonderful. And when it comes to me, she just says, ‘If you want to go sailing, go sailing.’”

Curt seconded the sentiment. “They understand what we like and we support them with what they like.”

“Well, if you die,” Curt’s wife once told him, “I know you were doing what you loved.”

xx
Curt listens in.

Though the smaller vessels may seem cramped, they do offer one particular advantage. “As compared to a larger boat, you can take them out of the water. Want to go somewhere you’ve never been?” Curt said. “You can take the boat there, put it in the water, stay as long as you want, take it out again and go home. Cuts down on maintenance and gives you a lot more range for the money.”

“For me, it fits my garage and it fits my budget,” Steve added. “The fact that I built it means that when I break it, I can fix it.”

Steve stands on the bulkhead, leaning over a boat in the water, pointing to a equipment stowed under the gunwale.A small, wooden, five point star decorates the bow of the boat.A hand holds the end of the boom, showing a pattern of 8 pieces of wood notched and pressed together to form the boom.
Steve explains the storage options and details of Spartina.

Steve thinks Spartina was the first Pathfinder built in the states. He purchased the Pathfinder plans from New Zealand designer John Welsford. With help from his father, Steve built Spartina in his garage.

Steve’s dad died before he had a chance to sail Spartina. He was a captain in the Navy, and Steve put a star on the bow in his honor.

The boat has other eye-catching details. The boom and mast are hollow. “It’s a bird’s mouth mast,” said Steve. Eight pieces of wood, all shaped with a V- notch, are strapped together with ties and then sealed, creating a lighter piece of equipment. The technique makes a distinctive pattern at the boom’s end.

Better than the look, though, is that it works. “It’s really, truly self-aligning,” Steve said, “it’s just as straight as can be.”

A close up of Steve's profile. He's wearing glasses, a hat, and a brightly colored neck gaiter.
Steve talks about working on the boat with his dad.

Surprisingly, Steve said, the boom was the easiest part of the build.

It took 20 months in total, costing about half of what it would if he’d bought it finished. By doing the work himself, Steve was able to climb in and around the hull, envisioning the space, process, and any potential pitfalls. “My wife would come out and find me just sitting in the boat.”

Spartina’s first cruise was four days to Tangier Island. And though Steve has been sailing the vessel 12-13 years, he says “every cruise is a little bit different. I learn something every time.”

A close-up of a weathered plaque says ANNIE Custom Built for Curt Bowman by East West Custom Boats.Close-up of an oar tied into a wrapped thole.Wooden beads cover the sail line and wrap around the mast to keep the line from rubbing.
The details of Annie.

These days, most of Steve’s gear is from the camping section. “I have a Bivi bag [a hooped, waterproof bag that closes over the sleeping bag], an inflatable sleeping pad, camp stove, and freeze dried meals.” He sails throughout the day, then anchors out. “I cook my meal, maybe read a book, put up the tent, put out all my gear, sleep all night, get up and put it all away in the morning.”

The longest sail he’s done was 16 days. He made plans for a month long cruise, but that was put on hold by the pandemic.

Around the same time that Steve was building Spartina, Curt was ordering Annie. Like Steve, Curt knew what he was looking for, but the Drascombes were under license and only one builder in the United States had the authorization to build them. So Curt bought Annie from a builder in Maine and finished the rigging himself.

A close-up of Curt, wearing a white hat, light blue neck gaiter, and glasses as he looks down into a boat.
Curt Bowman.

In his 2011 interview, Curt said he’d named the boat after his mother, Annie, who “had an adventurous spirit but didn’t get the chance to act on it.” Between 2011 and now, Curt has taken Annie on many adventures, stopping in at Oriental when passing by.

Curt has sailed smaller boats with boom tents, but his Longboat Cruiser (more recent plans call this model a Drascombe Coaster) has its perks for someone who prefers cooler weather when sailing, as Curt does. “With the cabin, you have a little more of a way to get out of [the weather] without having to put up a tent.”

Down below, Curt leaves his bunk set up, and though his gear is stored, he doesn’t have need of the dry bags that Steve employs. Annie’s dodger, another feature lacking on Spartina, protects Curt from the spray and the wind.

Annie is stenciled in gold with a thin black outline on the transom.Leather wraps around the oar, rough side up, and is held in place with nails. The weather is worn from use.Inside <em>Annie's</em> cabin is small, with a sleeping bag laid out on one side of the berth.
Annie has her own cabin and well-worn sculling oar.

Storms don’t present too much of a problem. “It gets a little hairy sometimes, but it’s more exciting than scary,” Curt said. When bad weather approaches, they sail into the creeks and settle in. Sometimes it’s just a few minutes, other times it’s longer. “You may have to lay up for a few days.”

Curt and Steve write about their voyages online, in their individual blogs. The descriptions of their trips are accompanied by photos, routes, and recommendations. The blogs are how they first connected. “He saw I was going to sail in Pamlico Sound,” Steve said, “and sent an email asking if I wanted to meet up along the way.”

Though he’d grown up sailing in San Diego, Steve says he is mostly self-taught. But meeting up with members of the camper cruiser community has helped him learn new ways of doing things. It’s had a surprising side effect as well.

xx
Steve readies Spartina to leave.

“I built this boat to get away from people,” Steve said, “but I ended up meeting a lot of my best friends, which is just unexpected.”

Curt and Steve agree that the smaller boats provide them with everything they need.

“I can tow it four or five hours and have a whole new sailing ground. Whereas if I had a bigger boat, it means 2-3 days of sailing to get there,” Steve said. “It’s the versatility. I admire the bigger boats – there are times in storms and such that I envy them, but…” Curt said, “there’s no slip fee.”

xx
Steve (left) and Curt head for their next destination.
Related Information
Shipping News – Annie
Steve’s Blog – Log of Spartina
Curt’s Blog – Thin Water Annie


Story & photos by Allison DeWeese.

Posted Tuesday September 1, 2020 by Allison DeWeese


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• September 2020 - Camping in the Creeks
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• February 2016 - Riding The Ferry - With The Captain
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