A Boating Bedtime Story

Overnighting for the first time on a new boat brings trials and tribulations. 

After a washout Memorial Day weekend, our goal for the following weekend was to stay overnight on the boat for the first time. I was antsy and Karen was apprehensive.

In the past we moved like cheetahs. A six-pack, a pair of pillows and some peanut butter pretzels was all we needed for a successful evening afloat. Today, we move more like three-legged buffalo. There are bottles, clothes, diapers, toys, snacks (how come the baby gets to eat avocado?!). Then there are our provisions and wait, where’s the dog? 

It took an entire morning just to pack and sort our gear for a single overnight—and we weren’t even leaving the mooring! Karen mentioned numerous times that she didn’t know how we were going to fit everything—and all of us—in the dinghy. As self-appointed travel coordinator I promised to take care of, well, not everything, but more than usual. 

So while Connor nursed a bottle in the air-conditioned sanctuary of our Honda, I took our gear and the dog out to the boat via dinghy; they would follow behind in the marina launch when they were ready. Of all days to force an overnight, I of course had to pick one where the temperature touched 90 degrees. 

I was a sweaty mess by the time they came pulling up on the launch. If I wanted more overnights on the boat in my future, I knew I needed Karen to have a good day, so after she climbed aboard I handed her a sandwich along with a cold can of Sam Adams Summer Ale that she could enjoy in the sun while I held Connor. I could practically see her blood pressure drop. I threw on some country music, and we all enjoyed a fresh breeze while watching boats pass by.

“It’s a lot of work to get out here, but it’s so worth it,” said Karen. “Look at this view.” 

So far, so good, I thought to myself, knowing full well we had a long way to go before declaring the trip a success. 

“It could be nice to go for a dinghy ride,” Karen mentioned. This was big, because for one reason or another, the idea of dinghy rides with Connor had previously made her anxious. I quickly got everyone situated and we began a nice slow cruise around Essex. I felt sorry for Connor; he was covered in layers of sunscreen like a tiramisu cake, in addition to wearing wrap-around sunglasses and a hat that covered his head, ears and neck. It was certainly a look that emphasized safety over style. Still, with a fresh breeze and the hum of the engine, he actually grew quite content. 

The long ride filled up the soul but didn’t do much for the stomach. I was in charge of the provisions on the overnight adventure, so the meal was a simple one: hot dogs and store-made macaroni salad along with a couple cold IPAs to be served at one of the many grilling areas on Safe Harbor Essex Island. What it lacked in style (and some might say, taste) it made up for in function. My boss Bill Sisson even came out to join us. Together we sat under the shade of a tree, enjoyed slightly undercooked hotdogs and toasted to the summer ahead. I felt thankful to be able to work with someone I consider a close friend. By the meal’s end, I felt my own blood pressure start to drop, yet I knew the real test was yet to come. 

While he’s made great strides the last few months, Connor is not what I would call a great sleeper. He’s a creature of habit, and during the workweek Karen keeps him on a military-strict schedule of naps and bedtime. A single deviation from that program has been known to cause a tailspin. Would the warm V-berth force us to retreat back home? 

After much brainstorming about the best sleeping arrangements, Karen purchased a nice portable crib device that fit well in the forward berth. Karen and Connor settled into the berth, Salty laid near them and I posted up on the convertible salon berth. It would be like sleeping on the couch, I told myself. I honestly kind of looked forward to having a space to myself. 

Karen struggled mightily in the beginning to get Connor to rest his head and go to sleep. Lying atop my sleeping bag and watching light fade from the sky, I tapped on my phone while Karen sang her 12th song in a row. It happened slowly—so slowly—and then, all at once. The beast had begun to slumber. I very slowly allowed myself to relax, knowing that every boat wake or outside sound could end our night in an instant. 

Connor blissfully and miraculously stayed asleep through the night. I wish I could say the same for myself. Until midnight, we were rocked by the occasional wake from people blowing through the no-wake zone. Then there was a drunken party on a nearby sailboat that hit its crescendo at 1:30. My blood pressure spiked with every “whoooo hooo!” that echoed across the water and into the warm cabin. A couple years ago I would have shared choice expletives with my new neighbors. Maybe I’m maturing, or maybe I just didn’t want to wake Connor. 

At 4:45 the first rays of light poured into the cabin (I really need better curtains, I mumbled to myself) and extinguished any hope I had for more sleep. I laid inside my sweaty sleeping bag and checked social media while feeling especially grouchy. I finally decided to get up and grab a bottle of water. What I saw next changed my mood completely (though not indefinitely). Karen was sound asleep on the port side of the berth, Connor was peacefully passed out on the side of his crib and Salty The Protector was enjoying doggy dreams beneath them. I stood there for more than a minute trying to stay in this moment and commit it to memory. We did it. We not only survived our first night aboard, we managed to enjoy ourselves. 

Later the next day, Karen and I were talking about how unusual boating is in that for a leisure activity it takes so much work. Indeed, it took more hours to prep for—and recover from—our first night than we actually spent on the boat. But when I think of that memory, the first morning waking up to my family sleeping together on our new boat, I have to say it was the kind of first that could never be replicated. Therein lies the beauty of any first. 

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