Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Don’t Do What I Did!

January 1, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Right of Way and Rites of PassageHarts at Sea by Jack Nordby

When we met, Stew was the ocean sailor, while I had grown up boating in canoes and small power boats on Maine’s lakes.  In fact, on our third date, he cautioned me, “I sail and all of my friends sail.” I still think that was a slight exaggeration, but I immediately stated that I was willing to learn. So he took me sailing on a race in Marblehead. We were a “crew” of three: the Captain, Stew, and me. I was rail meat, willingly sliding and bumping from high side to high side as we tacked through the course. (I never saw the low side of a heeled sailboat for another year or two.)

In the meantime, Stew strongly suggested that I take a U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary basic navigation course, and so I did. This was back in the early 1980s; I was the only woman in the class.  Here I was in my mid-twenties, totally clueless about sailing, while many of my classmates were middle-aged men who generally ignored me. Two younger professionals tried to shock me each week, once telling me that I’d have to learn to drop my shorts and pee over the side. Stew received a phone call after class from a very agitated potential sailor/girlfriend!

Despite all that, I excelled at navigation and dead reckoning, both in class and later on our sailboats. I would lay the chart on the table, get out my tools and tide charts, and navigate us around the islands and rocks in Casco Bay in fog, sun, or rain, during the day or at night, under sail or power.

Yes, Stew and I married, bought a house near the water, joined a yacht club as “non-boat-owning” members, and bought a Seafarer 26 shortly thereafter. This sweet little coastal cruiser had a head, small galley, ice box, forward cabin, and main salon with a dining area. We sailed nearly every weekend, and many weeknights during the summers. Stew was Captain and Chief Engineer, and I was Navigator and Chief Cook and Bottle Washer (twenty-plus years later, that is still the division of labor.)

One summer, we decided to sail all the way to Penobscot Bay in our little boat. Since hull speed indicated we’d never make it in one day, and since we had an 80 pound black lab that also refused to pee over the side, we decided to leave at night, sail to Monhegan, borrow a mooring for an hour so I could walk the dog, and proceed to Penobscot Bay (this actually worked well and was a regular vacation for a few years). Stew had purchased a new navigation tool, a state-of-the-art Loran. Oh, joy—my navigation skills didn’t extend to this piece of electronic gear, and Stew hadn’t had the time to program it before the trip. So, after we dropped our mooring at Centerboard Yacht Club sometime after 7:00 pm, the dog and I settled in the cockpit to handle the boat, while Stew went below to mutter, read directions, and punch buttons.

We were heading out the main shipping channel from Portland Harbor. We would have to tack between the islands to port and the mainland to starboard. I had rounded Spring Point Light and tightened sails for a starboard tack, pointing toward Cushing Island. From prior experience, I knew exactly how close to the island I could go before tacking, and I was determined to give Stew as much time as possible to enter his waypoints before it got dark. In the meantime, the Scotia Prince, the car and passenger ferry that ran daily from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia to Portland, had turned at Portland Head Light and was coming up the channel towards our little sailboat. I was undeterred. I was under sail. I was on the starboard tack. I had the right of way. And besides, Stew was busy.

As the ship got closer, I heard its massive horn, sounding, “BLAT-BLAT-BLAT-BLAT-BLAT!” I ignored it (see above) and continued on my way to the waypoint where I would have to interrupt Stew to help me tack. A few minutes later: “BLAT-BLAT-BLAT-BLAT-BLAT!”  Hmmm. I was still on my starboard tack and I was at least 10 to 15 minutes from my waypoint, and I thought they had plenty of room to go around me. The Captain of the Scotia Prince disagreed; here he went again with the “BLAT-BLAT-BLAT-BLAT-BLAT!”

At that point, reason prevailed, and I leaned down the companionway and said, sweetly, “Honey, I guess you may want to come up here. They’re tooting at us.”  Stew uttered a bad word and actually flew up to the cockpit! We initiated an immediate tack toward the other, nearer shore, where I was given a brief and to-the-point lesson on “tonnage rights” and “room to maneuver” and other rules that I somehow missed in class. Stew calmed down after an hour or so, but I don’t think he got the waypoints entered until we were safely anchored in Tennant’s Harbor two days later.

Barbara J. Hart is the author of Harts at Sea – Sailing to Windward, the story of the first year at sea for her and her husband aboard S/V La Luna, their 47’ Cheoy Lee Cutter.


By Barbara J. Hart

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