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Adventures of Attila the Hen, Wild Chick and No Name Peep Hens I Have Owned

By Tony Mayne

The Idyllic

As I slid westward through the Florida Bay and the Everglades toward Cape Sable, the setting sun and the open Gulf, I began to get serious about my navigation as short legged birds walk ankle deep all too close to my path. Florida Bay is shaded mostly 0 -3 feet deep with intervening shallows. The bonus is the flamingos, osprey and myriad gulls which are obviously at home sharing the thin water with a remote kin to the dolphins who are also glad for their company. For hours I blow downwind at 6+ knots: the steady easterly breeze builds a 3 foot chop on the Bay. For lunch I eat a granola bar and a banana. At the eastern edge of the Dry Tortugas I shoot a U-turn because the open Gulf isn.t where I intended to stay the night.

As I mentally brace myself to the idea of tacking all the way back to Flamingo Marina, I come to grips with the full reality of my position. 20 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico, thunderstorms are building to the North along a stalled frontal system, storms are building to the south over the open water that lies between me and Venezuela, my east breeze has fallen to less than 5 knots, the 3 foot chop remains and my boat speed each tack is 1.8 knots, my 14 foot gaff rigged boat isn.t exactly an eagle on the wind. The big waves come in groups of 3 which completely stops my 800 pound thin-water cruiser.

Another group of dolphins passes working hard at going slow enough to be friendly . the sun is swiftly setting, the breeze dies further . I sail on for hours into the night, the potential dangers I assessed at sunset have passed but at this rate I.ll be 300 years old when I get back. My cruise is over as I twist two knobs and pull twice at the Mariner which eagerly takes me home.

In the marina at 3:00 am, I contemplate what I.d do differently. The list is short: the granola bars have to go, I.ll take those 30 cent avocados the size of cantaloupes; I.ll fill the sun shower with Deep-Woods Off and tomorrow I.ll sail with the dodger up.

I did!

The Factual

My Peep Hen adventures actually began this last mid-September when on that certain day, at that certain time, in my particular mood, during that particular phase of the moon, my mouth let fly a price far too low for my S-20. My friend and cash carrying conversation companion of course said .YES. and it was done . I had cash instead of a boat when I went to Annapolis to .THE SHOW.. I had intended to look at small boats but I hadn.t intended to look so closely as to leave a deposit check with a southern manufacturer of so improbable a boat as a PEEP HEN.

After my initial visit at the Florida Bay Boat Company display, I promised to come back only if I didn.t find anything uglier. This boat has ugly deep . real deep. Sure enough, the Hen.s ugly is in a league by itself and I left the show to cruise the Chesapeake roughly $1000 lighter.

At the appointed day, my friend Larry and I drove to Miami, that vast social waste-land and only known source of Cuban bagels, to pick up my Hen, now affectionately known as Attila. Other names considered were: Beaux-Peep, GallHENacious, Bird-With-A-Mohawk, Keep Your Hens Off, and Feather Mother. You get the drift . serious! Sure enough when we arrived, Attila was ready . Larry was stunned (appreHensive), expecting something more like my Dana 24 than a wide Conestoga canoe with a 4-hp Mariner and a Porta-Potty. All the way to Flamingo Marina where we were to launch, I tried to cheer Larry up - cocktails, dinner and 12 hours sleep in the Lodge did wonders. The next morning we got underway at low tide, but then already heard that one.


I had really never sailed any place like Florida Bay and I want to share some of the .TRUTHS. or lessons I learned which vastly improved my sailing skills:

All kidding aside, most of us make-do with limited skills only necessary to deal with specific harbors or the race course. My sailing to date encompasses Hefner, Grand, Ft. Gibson, Thunderbird, Texoma, Newport Beach and the Channel Islands, Chesapeake Bay, Galveston Bay, etc. Florida Bay was totally different to me in most aspects of sailing.

Anchoring was an exercise in futility; thunderstorms went up and down at an alarming rate; the water is very shallow, everywhere and stunningly pretty; navigation was a minute to minute necessity. I came away from the whole event having truly enjoyed myself; I had sailed well and safely. Sailing various and different places makes you learn new skills and practice old ones. To me, that.s what sailing is all about.

ATTILA Goes Racing . The Tale of a Brief Regatta

I had for years raced sailboats at my boat club and dutifully submitted ATTILA to the club measurer to get a PHRF number, so I could compete against sailors of other boats of limited numbers who were not doing "fleeted", one design racing. The process of establishing such a number is a punitive art form where a person no one likes compares your boat to other sort of similar boats, size and configuration wise and gives you a handicap number related only to your boat's "speed potential" and racing performance elsewhere. You might guess that there wasn't much guidance on how to rate a 14 foot, gaff rigged cat-boat with a cabin enclosure, two real berths and a "kitchen". So the fleet measurer gave me the same handicap number as a J-24. The similarities between the two boats are obvious. A gauntlet had been thrown down and I was inspired!

I took ATTILA to the secrecy of my garage and within a week ATTILA had sprouted a bow sprit, head-stay, kevlar running backstays, a custom fabricated mylar-kevlar jib and an asymmetrical spinnaker of the newest .5 oz polyester. War is expensive!

The Saturday following the delivery of the headsails, I entered the p.m. beer can race to try to sail to my "number" and to duel mano-a-mano with "Cheap Sunglasses", the scourge of the local J-24 fleet. No one noticed the .minor. rig modifications on the Hen. At the start I played smart, ducked the fleet and started late on port tack at the slightly unfavored pin end. When the fleet tacked I tacked staying well clear to avoid close scrutiny. I had to barge the starboard lay line parade on port tack, got under another J and followed "Cheap Sunglasses" to the weather mark about 30 feet back. As they reached up slightly to set the spinnaker, we bore off and I eased up the board slightly about halfway and in a slight lull Suz yanked down the jib, attached the spinnaker head to the halyard and the foot to the downhaul. In one fluid motion the halyard went up, the downhaul was pulled tight and the sheet trimmed. The chute cracked into shape and we rocketed away at about 9 knots, half again as fast as the villainous J-24, my only competition of the night. I pulled the board up until rock an' roll began, eased it back down slightly. We were fully planing, almost no wake, like something out of Star Wars. As we approached the gibe mark, Suz and I exchanged glances and knew our race was over. We had made our point and wanted only to savor that run as long as possible. We went to the end of the lake, slowly came back to the Clubhouse under cover of darkness, snuck ATTILA onto her trailer, took her back to the privacy of our garage and moved to New Mexico the next week.

So for those of you who take your Peep Hens to your local club measurer to get a PHRF number and find it's 156, the same as a J-24, you have ATTILA to blame.....The Legend Lives.

Supercharging your Peep Hen:
A How-To Article

Your Hen as it comes from the factory is a moderately good sailing boat inherently safe and extremely useful. This article is written only for those who must tinker and have cash and time to invest in some significant upgrades to your Peep Hen's performance. The design rationale and execution follow.

The limiting factor in the Hen's performance is its rather aft location of the mast for a cat boat which location is dictated by other important design considerations for the foredeck area. However the distance from the stem to the mast is useful if one concludes as I did that the Hen would benefit from a jib set in that area. While you don't see a gaff-rigged main with a conventional jib on every street corner, it is a viable sail plan. My original dimensions for the sprit I elected to install were driven by the fact that I owned a Lido 14 headsail. Another desire of mine was to avoid a headstay since it would interfere with the ease of using the articulated free-standing mast. The Lido jib also fit that requirement as it had a wire luff.

After accepting the design premise of adding the jib, other criteria flow directly. The base of the sprit is guyed to the trailer winch eye on the bow via a kevlar line with snap shackles. My present sprit is 3/4 inch plywood shaped at the perimeter to match the foredeck shape and is bolted through the hull to deck flange with stainless hardware. The forward thrust is 18 inches which is supported slightly by a web at the stem. Although the downward force on the mast is not particularly large when the jib luff is tensioned, I thought it beneficial to have a small compression post to transmit that force to the keel rather than just the unsupported though strong topsides. The compression post is fabricated by screwing together two pieces of 1 inch x 3/4 inch finished oak on either side of the forward edge of the sink module where the Igloo cooler cut out is. The aft lip must be notched to allow continued use of the Igloo. The final step in the standing rigging set-up is the addition of two running backstays. These are made from 3/16 inch K-900 attached to the mast at the existing lazy jacks bail. The deck end can attach to the existing forward bimini top fastening strap tangs, although I've upgraded mine to stainless bails. To make the backstays adjustable I added double block jam cleats which must be loosened on a run. The jib halyard is created by fastening a new bail on the mast front above the throat reach 27 inches down from the mast peak. The boat end of the jib halyard runs to a jam cleat on the mast base well below the hinge. I set the jib on a downhaul pendant so the whole thing can be retrieved to the cockpit for attachment or removal. The downhaul simply runs from the jib foot to a swivel block on the top side of the sprit directly above the attachment of the bobstay. The downhaul bitter end then runs through a fairlead to a jam cleat at the aft end of the teak hatch slide. Although this sounds somewhat complex, it really isn't. In addition to a major benefit in performance, this rig set-up doesn't interfere in the marvelous easy up/down mast features.

Two additional steps are required though. When taking down the mast you need to release the figure of eights in the backstay leads as they will lie along the mast as it comes down, retained by the halyard keeper. The jib halyard is kept tidy the same way. I had a friend who is a sail maker cut me an asymmetrical chute which I set just like the jib. The downhaul serves the dual purpose of setting the luff tension and providing some up and down adjustment to optimize the run angle on a boat with a large blanketing mainsail. The Hen is a strong well manufactured boat which handles these modifications rather well. My beloved ATTILA is now almost 6 years old in this configuration and shows no stress. My new Peep Hen "Wild Chick" has this same rig, with a slightly less elegant sprit than that fashioned by ATTILA's new owner who has real woodworking skills.

Attila the Hen Goes West

As is all too often the case for most of us, after my previously described episodes, I had to go home and back to work. ATTILA had to be a component of my life, not the primary focus if such integration is possible for a true boating nut. Although I didn't realize it at the time I was a front-runner in the mushrooming trailer sailer crowd. I have a picture of ATTILA in the Painted Desert. The background looks as fake as that in your high school graduation photos. At my first opportunity after surviving an awful winter in the Midwest and finding myself at the altar, saying I do, I do, at the insistence of a delightful woman whose last name was becoming the same as mine; we headed for California for a belated honeymoon, ATTILA approvingly in tow.

Newport Beach was the destination. After checking all of the titles, insurance certificates and driver.s licenses and leaving an incredible amount of cash, I was permitted to enter Newport Dunes, a curious combination of resort, RV park and marina. After rest, reconnaissance and food, we put ATTILA in the Newport River, motored the short way to and under the Coast Highway Bridge and entered the realm of Newport Beach Harbor where there are nine zillion sailboats which look nothing like my Peep Hen. California feeds on big and sleek and we didn't much look like that.

After clearing the bridge we put up the stick, set the mainsail, hoisted the jib (see Volume II, Chapter 2) and sailed up the Bay. The upper Bay has fancy restaurants with small courtesy docks on the East side and Brokers with not so courtesy docks on the West side. We sailed up one side and down the other. The Brokers with their long rows of 50 foot boats were unpleasant, I'm sure because we had obviously flunked the primer course in how to yacht properly in California. The people in the restaurants pointed and giggled and proclaimed us "cute". We repeated this adventure daily for most of the week we were there.

Part of the objective for the trip was to have ATTILA on the Pacific Ocean, so we sailed out of the channel, past the Newport Buoy into the open Ocean. Dart and weave, bob and surge; why are we here? I wasn't inspired to take up ocean voyaging this way! Each day as we sailed past the restaurants we eagerly ate our pre-made sandwiches and I'm sure the customers felt sorry for us probably unaware that for supper in our snug cabin at Newport Dunes cove, we had brie, pate, charcoaled salmon and shrimp and large quantities of good local champagne. Pretty tough life; for us it was the best of California by day and night.

Would we go back? Sure, but later, sometime after the Chesapeake, Lake Powell, Rainey Lake, the Sea of Cortez..... I have a new truck and twelve additional days of vacation. See ya' on the water, soon!

Volume IV, Chapter 1
More Adventure Than I Had In Mind

I had sold the latest boat my wife and I owned in San Diego and took my second Peep, Wild Chick, to San Diego to replace it . We lived in Albuquerque at the time, so the trip was pretty easy and I still had my slip at the .Marina. two more weeks. Wild Chick would look pretty cool in my thirty plus foot slip, I thought and I could live aboard for the two weeks my wife would be gone back to ABQ since she had no annual leave time remaining. I moved aboard with some difficulty finding storage space for the .residuals. from the larger ex-boat. So, there you have the set-up: boy and gear in small boat, in large slip looking pretty stupid. It gets worse!

The evening I moved aboard it began to rain, a heavy drizzle and it was cold. I obviously had a heater and extension cord which I rigged and once again, things were cool. I had the complete summer-cabin up and was reasonably dry, for a while. Multiple trips to the marina facilities, grocery store, West Marine, etc. began to erode the warm, dry and comfortable fašade. I had plenty of reading material and battery powered lanterns to keep the boredom away as I knew in that weather, I wasn.t going sailing. The sixth morning I awoke to that odd San Diego sunrise and knew I had to do something besides sitting around an increasingly wet, cold boat.

I developed a plan of action; I wanted to go to the S.D. Buoy. Now, the S.D. Buoy is a long way out into the Pacific from the mouth of San Diego Bay, but the day was warm, dry and windless. I was inspired! I left the stick down, took off the aft and side curtains of the Summer Cabin and motored away from my secure dockage. The Bay was calm and as I got beyond the protection Point Loma offered, the smooth turned to rough and open Ocean. I knew the waves had to have been part of the surf in Hawaii not too long ago; the S.D. Buoy was on the horizon, way, way out. My four horse Johnson hummed along oblivious to its location. Well, the short story is that I quickly gave up that Buoy as a destination and settled with the third Buoy out; that was plenty far enough, motored smartly around it and got the H. out of there.

The Peep rides on the top of each wave piece, I swear, even the spray, so by the time I got back to point Loma.s wind shield, I was pretty tired of the Huevos Rancheros I had eaten for breakfast and longed for peanut butter, saltines or chicken noodle soup. The mal-de mare passed as I got back to my slip. The need for a nap roared on me like thunder and I succumbed and dreamt about taking Wild Chick to Hawaii. Errrr...

Now, you know there.s a moral to this story, don.t you? It has several parts:

  1. Don.t live aboard a Peep Hen during the rainy season, and
  2. Never take your boat where it doesn.t belong, and
  3. With practice and as your skills increase, there will be fewer places your boat doesn.t belong, and the Pacific Ocean may be such a place, and
  4. Be safe as you stretch your experience and skills!
Happy Peeping!

Volume IV, Chapter 2

I won.t provide the lurid details about why I was putting Wild Chick in brokerage in Annapolis, other than to say that I needed to. I had the luxury of four free days to use her before I had to get back to Albuquerque.

The morning light was grey and heavy with mist and it was very early; that hour was not normally on my clock. I sat up and scooted out of my berth, lit the butane stove and put coffee water on. I turned toward the companionway and glanced out; standing on the sand, not four feet away was the biggest Blue Heron I had ever seen. In the moment I named him (?) Bill. Bill wasn.t disturbed at all by my minor thrashing below, so I poured coffee water and gazed at him; no one blinked. After a while his fascination with me faded and he began to look for more breakfast.

When he finally flew, I checked my watch: 6:05! Finishing my coffee, I crawled back into my bedding and resumed my sleep hoping for a more appropriate time to awake. Sure enough 9:30 was a better hour for more coffee and preps for the day of exploring Maryland.s South River. I had the essentials for life; ice, shrimp salad from the Annapolis Sea Food Co., bean dip, Fritos and pre-mixed martinis. I stopped at a local fuel dock to top off and began to motor every inch of the South River between the two bridges and Highway 50. There are a few coves and inlets and I mostly lingered here and there with no plan. Time began to be less important; it was either day or not. When it got to be less day than night, I motored back to the small creek with the sand bottom, anchored, declared toddy-time, ate supper and went to bed. Each morning at first light, I awoke, started coffee, then chatted with Bill, finished coffee and went back to sleep. I awoke later, had more coffee, explored, napped, explored, etc.

It occurred to me on the third day that I was now operating my day on .Bill Time., and I didn.t seem to have a choice, and that seemed OK. Each morning he had greeted me, started my daily activities then gone off to his day of nap, explore, go to bed when it wasn.t day and start all over again at earliest light. I realized that without apology or explanation I had been forced to live by someone else.s time rules. I had never been manipulated that way; I had always made the rules.

On the fourth day, as the Sun got low in the direction where day ends, I put Wild Chick on her trailer, delivered her to the broker and pointed my truck towards Albuquerque. I had hardly gotten out of Washington DC headed west when the broker called to say that the boat had sold at my asking price and .your check.s in the mail.. All that was sort of OK, but the real issue is that I.m now left with .get up at first light, have a cup of coffee, go back to sleep for a while, more coffee, explore, nap and explore, then to bed when it.s no longer day. I protest; I hadn.t volunteered for this; it wasn.t my habit; I protest more!

So, here.s my advice, if near or on South River and a huge Blue Heron is staring at you in the early morning like he.s going to do a mind meld, leave then or really going to have a hard time explaining your new schedule to your wife of thirty years.\

Volume V, Chapter 1

As some of you know in late December, 2003, I acquired my third Peep Hen from the Dealer in Pennsylvania and had an old trucker friend meet me in Oklahoma City with it. I took her the rest of the way to Albuquerque, her home port (?). I had owned several boats between Peeps, a Bay Hen, a Montgomery15, a Carolina Skiff but none had fit me like the other Peeps had. Well unfortunately I had to go back to work as temporary retirement had drained the till. So Nimble.s next to last boat sat, no name or adventure. I took her to our RV pavilion in west Texas for protection. She sat!

In February, .05 my health .tanked. and my no-name Peep sat more. I realized my boating days were limited so I put the Peep up for sale and eventually a very nice couple bought her and took her to their home. My wife and I cried as .no-name. disappeared up the Interstate for a new home, not ours.

The Peeps had brought my wife and me such pleasure, joy and adventure that they had been our life for a long time. In the end, I had traded our last Peep for my Pacemaker that I might live again.