Saturday, October 3, 2009

Day Five: Escape from Port Jefferson

Rose early, made coffee, pottered -- waiting for a call from Port Inflatables. A pleasant warm sunny morning, with little wind yet evident.

My neighbor Will was preparing to weigh anchor: He used his ingenious crane to swing his dinghy motor up and onto its bracket, and then hiked the bow of the dinghy itself well up out of the water, so only the stern was trailing. Then he fired up his engine and recovered his anchor and put-putted away out of the harbor, passing alongside the Scapegrace about 20 feet away, with a cheerful wave. "Fair winds!" he called out. I couldn't quite think of the equivalent thing to say, but finally came up with "Calm seas!"

Port Inflatables called about 10 and said the motor was ready. So I pulled up the hook and motored in to the town dock, where you can tie up for $12 an hour, a bit more reasonable than Danford's $20.

The town dock is an actual dock, not a float, and the tide rises and falls a fair distance here -- six feet, maybe more. I thought the tide was pretty much dead low, since my head as I stood on the deck of the boat was well below the level of the dock. So I tied my springlines without a whole lot of slack.

Port Inflatables showed up in their truck with my motor, and the town dock had a cart I could use to wheel it back down to the boat. But how to get it on the dinghy? The dock was probably twelve feet above the level of the water, and the only way up and down was slippery weed-covered vertical ladders.

Fortunately, the nice chap who runs the town launch offered me a place to tie up the dinghy at his float, so I could just wheel the motor down a ramp and then sit at the edge of the float and rassle the motor into the dinghy. That done, the motor started on the first pull and ran as smooth and sweet as you please. (But for how long?)

I took the opportunity to empty the porta-potty into the town dock's toilet -- I always feel a little furtive doing this, though I suppose it's OK. And I topped up my water tank, and then found that there were showers and washing machines available for town dock users, and so I went and had a long-overdue shower and did my laundry.

When I got back, I was mortified to see that the Scapegrace's mast was cocked at about a fifteen-degree angle. The tide, it seems, had fallen a good deal further, the springlines were taut as fiddlestrings, and the boat was sagging drunkenly to port.

Fortunately, Pearson built these boats very strong, back in the day, and the cleats were still firm on the deck. (Although one of the cleats on the dock had pulled away from the wood a couple of inches.) I quickly slacked off on the springlines and the boat came back upright with an audible and slightly reproachful sigh. No harm done, except to my already-fragile sense of competence.

A poem written by an old friend of mine, Bill Hedrington, came suddenly to mind:

The Boats

The boats that bump so docile at the dock
Are moored there slackly; no rowboat captain
Even, but knows the moon-called sea takes line,
And will have it, or hang the boats to break.
I’m not a boat, my will is not a rope,
And you, for all your changes and your pull
Tiding my heart’s rerunning salty well,
Are not the pumicestone that queens the deep.
Yet, I might as well be boat, and you moon,
For though I fight, my blood bends with the sea,
My body aching at my twisted will.
How, unless a man tie back the ocean,
Can taut lines help but snap, and how, once free,
Can any man but be a tide-bound hull?

* * * * *

I paid the town for my time at the dock, and almost literally sailed into the sunset.

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