Thursday, July 30, 2009


I enjoy sailing, really I do, and I'm looking forward to my trip to Maine, but I'm also scared shitless.

It's always this way. I took a little overnight down to Sandy Hook last week, and didn't sleep a wink the night before. How will I deal with that damn Staten Island Ferry? Every time I get near the Battery every Staten Island Ferry ever launched returns from the deep or the scrapyard and converges on my poor little boat, with Giuliani voters lining the rails and shouting coarse insults at me, like those French knights in the Monty Python movie --

... and the captains blaring their damn horns at a fiendishly calibrated molto-agitato, BURRRR... BURRRR.... BURRRRRR! guaranteed to turn your bowels to water. In New York, you can be honked at anywhere -- on the sidewalk, on the water, in the shower, probably in the cemetery.

This time I'm not so worried about the ferry, though I must beard it in its den to round the Battery. I'm worried about where I'm going to anchor on the way to acquire my crewman Ishmael in Wellfleet. I don't know that many places, and it's always kinda white-knuckle, especially if you're by yourself -- and it's dark -- and the wind is blowing -- to grope into an unfamiliar harbor and find the right place and shift the engine into neutral and then scurry forward to drop the hook, hoping that you don't go aground and the boat doesn't drift too far from where you want it to be while you're in mid-scurry.

Once the anchor is down you sit and try to figure out where you're likely to swing if the wind and current change, and how much water (if any) you'll be in, and whether you'll be on top of another boat.

And if you decide there might be a problem.... Then you have to shift the engine into reverse and carefully try to back up away from your anchor a hundred feet or so, hoping that you're not going to wrap the anchor rode around the prop.

(Did I mention that it's dark now? Black as the inside of your hat, and you can't tell what you're looking at, or how far away it is?)

Finally you drop the other hook, the Bruce that you'll spend an hour trying to get back up out of the muck tomorrow. Then you eyeball the two anchor rodes and see that their angle is way short of 180 degrees, and so you shorten up on both of them, and then you wonder whether you've got too little line out, and you don't sleep a wink. Again.

Hell, might as well just make some coffee and keep sailing.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Another mad expedition

I'm getting ready -- well, I should be getting ready, instead of blogging -- to set sail from NYC to Maine. I made it here from Maine last fall, in spite of two hurricanes and my own incompetence -- a story which I may tell one of these days -- so maybe I can make it back. The winds ought to be more favorable, and it's not hurricane season yet.

This year I have to single-hand as far as Wellfleet, Mass., on Cape Cod, where I hope to pick up a crewman.

I expressed that badly. I mean, there's a guy I know -- let's call him Ishmael -- who summers in Wellfleet and has agreed to join me for the latter part of the trip, Wellfleet to the Sheepscot River.

There's always something to do on a boat. Here's my to-do list:

  • Change fuel filter on dinghy outboard
  • Attach mooring pickup hook to boat pole
  • Replace reefing line on mainsail (and whip ends, dammit, you lazy slapdash slacker)
  • Make sure outboard can't fall off dinghy (again)
  • Make sure nothing else can fall off dinghy (again)
  • Tell harbormaster (again) that mooring buoy has sunk, and only the boat is keeping it off the bottom
  • Replace stupid brass screws holding nav light in place with stainless steel ones, which you should have used in the first place, idiot
  • Figure out why the depth gauge is telling me I have 105 feet of water under my keel -- weed or barnacles on the transducer? Must I don mask and snorkel and pickle my puckery flesh in the Hudson River PCB soup? Maybe it'll correct itself.
  • Pack clothes
  • Fill up jerricans with gasoline
  • Steal towels and pillows and sheets from home
  • Get DC inverter from car

I also have a shopping list:

  • Contact lens solution (for wife)
  • Contact lens case (ditto)
  • Coffee
  • Artificial sweetener
  • That weird ultrapasteurized milk that you don't have to refrigerate
  • Olive oil
  • Mustard
  • Lots and lots of cheap red wine
  • Easy to cook camp food
  • Butane cylinders for stove
  • AA batteries and lots of them
  • Trash bags
  • Dish scrubbers (plastic mesh)
  • Effective bilge pump for dinghy (Query to self: Can justify to wife?)

The stainless steel screws mentioned above are a story in themselves: #4, 1" long, self-tapping, flat or oval head, Philips or slot drive. Easy, right? Wrong. This became a year-long quest for the Holy Grail: All the local hardware stores, West Marine, Home Depot, (a wonderful place, by the way) (ditto), again). All out of stock. Had George Soros cornered the market? Are #4 stainless steel self-tapping non-panhead screws critical components of Iran's nuclear program? finally came through, and I now own a supply of #4 screws that ought to last for three or four generations.

Then there's the dinghy. But that's not just a story, it's a novel. Another time.