A Seafaring State of Mind

Cloth diapers hanging out to dry on the foredeck.
For a while, every day not underway was laundry day.

Life—at least mine—seems to come in phases.  There are seasons when it feels like all I do is grind itchy fiberglass and slosh paint around—both at work and after; there are seasons where all I can remember is washing heaps of cloth diapers in plastic tubs in our boat’s cockpit.  There have also been times when life was marked mostly by picking heavy things up and putting them down again.

Lately, by which I mean since this spring, when as I mention in my last post I sailed a little schooner called Magic from Nassau to Rhode Island, my life seems to have entered a gratifying phase of seafaring.  This most pleasant of epochs comes around from time to time, and is always as welcome as the dawn is after a chilly, sleepy, late-night watch.

Schooner Magic goes to sea
Magic, a 38-foot schooner, sets sail from Portsmouth for Virginia.

It began of course with the Magic delivery, a couple of weeks after which another delivery came across my radar: a 34-foot PDQ catamaran needed shepherding from New London, Connecticut, to Portland, Maine.  The owners had just bought her and needed not only instruction in her use, but to be sure to get her home in one piece.

It was an uneventful trip in that nothing went horribly wrong, but it was interesting in the amount of paying attention that it took.  Groping into a choppy anchorage after dark just south of the Cape Cod Canal; finding the canal entrance in a thick early morning fog, deciding whether to put into Gloucester (and being very glad we did), navigating the narrow, shallow Annisquam Channel the next day, and then the long, long close reach to Portland, dodging trap floats all day, and catching one or two after dark.  Finally, arriving in Portland after midnight, working up the unfamiliar channel by buoy and sector light to drop anchor just at the edge of a commercial anchorage.

The north shore of Bermuda

Returning from that one, it was only a week or so before I flew to Bermuda to sail Blackwatch, an 80-year old classic wooden boat, back from the Newport-to-Bermuda race.  Well, I’d never been to Bermuda before, so it was a real treat to go, and then to get to spend four extra days there while we waited for weather.  It was a hot and rainy four days, but I got a great deal of walking and exploring done—Bermuda was unique in my experience, which has mosly run to the Third World and Canada.

Blackwatch sailboat, ocean crossing
Flying a mizzen staysail on Blackwatch

The voyage itself was mellow, which had been the purpose of waiting out the weather, and it was a luxury to have plenty of people—four to each watch—to pass the time with in the dark hours of the nights.  We arrived in Newport in the dark (somehow I’ve arrived there in the dark more often than in daylight), both sunburned and parboiled from the muggy heat of land and sea over the past week, but otherwise not much worse for the wear.

No sooner was customs cleared than I was off to meet my next client, fortunately just a few moorings away, on a gorgeous little wooden boat called Eliza.  She needed to be sailed to Maine on the week of 4th of July.  Piece of cake, except the crew I’d lined up suddenly wasn’t able to come along.  Here’s where it’s good to have a seafaring family—Danielle and the girls were dying to go sailing anyway, so they just tossed a few things in duffel bags and we took Eliza to Maine together.

It was perhaps the most uneventful trip of all—we motored all but a couple of hours of it, and the sea was as quiet as one could wish.  Instead of the din and moil of Independance Day Bristol, with its parades and motorcycles and firecrackers, we had the placid Gulf of Maine.  Far away, from Provincetown and Boston and Plymouth could be seen firework displays, low and faint just above the horizon.

Approaching the ragged coast of Maine in the early morning, there was an ocean sunfish basking floppily the way they do—a real treat for the girls as we circled around for a better look.  It was a detour we could well spare the time for: the afternoon had barely begun when we nosed Eliza into a slip only half her length in Rockport Harbor, hailed a taxi, and made for home in a rented car.

Gaffer under full sail
Ganymede’s full-sail shadow, photo taken from the spreaders.

After that, we had time for nearly an entire week on Ganymede, sailing around the bay, swimming at anchor, and giving the bottom a much-needed scrubbing.  Best thing is: sailing season’s not over.  With any luck, we’ll get out a few more times, and who knows?  Some more captain’s work might just fall in my lap.  The way things have been going, it wouldn’t be a surprise at all.

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