Lessons Learned: Stand Up Paddling Edition

I have to admit, after a week-long vacation aboard the Karen Marie, I was feeling pretty good about myself. Sporting a fresh tan, my shoulders were relaxed and my arms swung easily at my side; there was a strut in my step as I walked the docks. I was proud of my boat and the fact that we made it to three new destinations together, returning no worse for wear.

There would be no sailing the weekend after our trip, as Karen’s family was in town for their annual visit to Newport. Shoulder tension returned, just a bit, as we prepared an itinerary for their visit. An active family, we planned to spend Saturday afternoon exploring Jamestown’s tranquil Dutch Harbor via Stand-Up Paddleboards and kayaks. (This is in spite of the fact that I often scoff at the local “hippies” who practice yoga on the elongated surfboards near our marina.)

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I played through the afternoon multiple times in my head. We would enjoy a leisurely paddle out to Dutch Island then take a short walk to the lighthouse on the southern end. We’d get just enough exercise to burn off breakfast and not feel guilty about fresh fish tacos from The Shack afterwards.

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And it started off just like I had hoped. I snapped pictures from my WaterShot submersible cell-phone case of happy smiles and shared laughter. I even let myself smile as we reached the lighthouse. Everything was going according to plan and I could practically taste the celebratory tacos. I walked along the shoreline, perfecting my rock skipping technique as Karen and her older sister embarked on a “short race.”

Busy counting skips, I lost track of them until a passing boater and his son mentioned that the sisters were fighting against a strong current and might need help. He was right; they were paddling and paddling but being pushed farther north away from their intended destination. Like the tough guy I fancy myself, I took off after them to help guide them out of the channel and away from the incoming current.

Tough guy decision, yes. Smart, not so much.

After reaching them and trying to coach them out of the channel, I found myself being swept up in the current at the same speed I could paddle.

“Some lifeguard I’d make,” I thought to myself.

After much labored paddling, we eventually did get out of the channel and away from danger but not before ending up nearly a mile away from the rental shop.”What was the full day rental fee,” I wondered, as we crawled desperately towards home. Resorting to paddling from a seated position to rest our legs, we were not a pretty sight.

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I waved down a passing boat and asked for a lift. The “captain” informed me that he didn’t want to bring the boards on his boat, pushed his throttles to the pins and left me spitting mad and struggling to stand in his wake. I was furious.

“He’s lucky he wasn’t within an oars reach,” I grumbled.

Later (much later) I realize I wasn’t mad at him, I was mad at myself (OK, and him too a little) for not paying attention to what Sailing for Dummies tells you on page one: be aware of the wind direction and current. I ignored both of those things.

The boater who warned me of the current earlier, watched the whole episode unfold and he, along with his young son, came to our aid, towing us on our boards almost the whole way back to the rental shop, saving us from having to dish out the overtime rental fee. I never did catch our new friend’s name but he epitomized the character that most boaters possess. They’re the kind of people that jump to help someone in need without a moment’s thought of reward. The young boy in the boat was learning from one heck of a role model while the not-so-young boy being dragged behind him on a paddle board ate a big slice of humble pie.

Returning to shore with tired shoulders and wobbly legs, we were a tired bunch. Too tired even for fish tacos; all we wanted was water. It took some time, but we we eventually found ourselves rehydrated and able to laugh about the events of the day. It may not have gone according to plan, but it was a day on the water that I know we’ll all remember for a long time.

Cruising to Cranston

Besides a half a day at the Convention Center last winter, Providence, the biggest city in the smallest state has eluded me. When planning for the trip, Edgewood Yacht Club in Cranston piqued my interest because of its close, 3-mile proximity to the city and its many attractions, ranging from Italian restaurants to museums and shows.

So at 0700 the Karen Marie left East Greenwich and headed farther north. Slowly navigating out the narrow channel and into the bay, we found ourselves completely alone, a stark and almost eerie contrast to our often-overcrowded home water off Newport. Light and shifty winds made sailing difficult. Constant sail trimming and wheel turning had us making a knot and a half of speed, and that was only when Karen and I blew into the sails at same time!

After 30 minutes of staring at the same house on the coast, I felt that sufficient time had passed to meet the requirements of “the old college try.” We doused the sails and motored on. Lighthouses and mansions passed just beyond our lifelines, providing hours of entertainment. Before we knew it, the Providence skyline had appeared before our bow . A few unanswered calls from the VHF and cell phone to Edgewood went unanswered, which had us looking out for a plan B but as we approached the mooring field, a very excited launch operator waved us down and greeted us.

Lighthouses dot the rocky shores of Narragansett Bay.
Lighthouses dot the rocky shores of Narragansett Bay.

Taking the dinghy to shore to check in, we immediate got the impression that Edgewood Yacht Club doesn’t get many transient visitors. For example, where I come from, people can often be heard greeting one another by saying: “How’s it going?” “Good, you?” “Good thanks.” And then both parties go on with their day. Greet someone in Edgewood with that same greeting, and you better be prepared to hear exactly how “it” is going.

Asking the dockmaster for a couple bags of ice at most marinas is met with a nod towards the ice chest and the quick exchange of $7. The dockmaster here listened, genuinely interested about where we came from, why we decided to stop here, and where we were headed next before relinquishing a bag of the cold stuff. This level of friendliness was a surprise, but a welcome one.

It would only take a short trek into town to realize why guests here get looked at like green Martians; the only attraction seemed to be its proximity to the capital city. The temperature at this point had risen to a hot and sticky 90-degrees, which had Karen and myself exploring the air-conditioned aisles of convenience stores instead of hunting down any real points of interest. We decided to leave Providence for another (cooler) day. Maybe in the fall.

We opted instead to join my parents, who were in Cranston with us, on a dinghy ride. Loaded down with the four of us, a 55 lb black lab and a cooler filled with drinks had the 8 hp Yamaha working harder than usual to push us towards the city. Puttering past a major shipping port called Waterson Terminal Service was an impressive part of the ride. Mountains of coal and salt towered above us as foreign container ships filled with cars and other goods casted shadows over the Providence River. After exploring the shore of this facility, we decided to turn back to the marina.

Now, a good sailor knows to always pay attention to the wind direction and speed. Whoops. We quickly learned that we blissfully had our backs to a building south wind that now hit our raft like a right hook. My parent’s lab, Zoe went from sitting up on the bow, tail wagging at a mile a minute to hiding her head between the bench seat and the portable gas tank. Karen and my mom, acting as unwilling human shields, took the brunt of the salt-spray.

My parent's usually peppy puppy was glad to return dockside after a rough ride in the raft.
My parent’s usually peppy puppy was glad to return dockside after a rough ride in the dinghy.

Some much needed showers, and a few glasses of wine warmed everyone up and we all enjoyed dinner on my parent’s boat. Three games of cards, and a couple hours of smack talk capped off an otherwise pleasant and relaxing evening.

If you’re looking for a quiet marina, hidden in the shadows of bustling city, where friendly folks make even the most cynical guests feel right at home, I highly recommend a visit to Edgewood Yacht Club. Be sure to tell them Dan sent you.

In Pictures: 20th-Annual Leukemia Cup Regatta

This past weekend, I took a slight hiatus from working on the boat to attend the local Leukemia Cup Regatta, a race that drew sailboats from all over the state for fun sailing and fundraising. Towering 12-meter yachts with professional crews swapped wakes with family-run daysailers, all paying a registration fee that went towards blood-cancer research.

As crews tacked back and forth, plying the waters of Narragansett Bay, it seemed as though every sailor had a smile on their face, perhaps none more so than former America’s Cup champion and Chairman of the Leukemia Cup Regatta, Gary Jobson (whom you might recognize as the longtime-America’s Cup commentator on NBC.)

Jobson signed on as the organization’s honorary chairman in 1993 with the stipulation that he would only hold the position for three years. Well, twenty-two years and 372 regattas later Jobson is still at the helm, and the only change he’s made is dropping the word “honorary” from his title.

“The curve ball in this whole operations was 10 years into the position, in 2003, I was diagnosed with non-hodgkin’s lymphoma and I can report that it was a very tough 2-year battle with stem cell transplants,” says Jobson.

That cruel twist of fate left him with a better understanding of blood cancer, its treatments and cures.  “All the research that was being done thanks to the regattas, I ended up being the recipient. Sometimes when you try to help other people out, like myself and the folks at this regatta have done; the biggest recipient in the end might just be you.”

For more information about the Leukemia Cup Regatta and how you can help, please visit lls.org

Please enjoy a sampling of photos of this life-saving organization.

The Truth About Boat Restoration

Boat restoration is a game of peaks and valleys. For multiple weeks, Karen and I spent our days sanding and tearing apart our boat’s interior. We worked long hours and inhaled more than our fair share of dust. By the weekends end we didn’t have much to show for our efforts besides aching shoulders and a lingering cough. Not knowing when or even if we’d be able to restore the interior, we were very much in a proverbial valley.

This past weekend, my folks made their annual visit to Newport to help Karen and I make some progress on our lingering projects. The plan was that Karen and my mom would tackle paint and primer while my dad and I would prep the engine, replace a seacock and bilge pump and finally install the cabin’s headliner.

Now, if you’ve been following this blog, you might realize that installing a new headliner is a task that has eluded me on no less than two previous occasions. Failed attempts to cover our cabin with plastic and wood failed to be feasible options (remember those valleys I was talking about?). This time, I wasn’t pulling any punches, I went to sailrite.com and ordered the real thing: a headliner fabric that was actually made for sailboats. Genius, I thought while patting myself on my back as the computer screen flashed: approved. Halfway through the installation process with my folks however, it became clear that the lightweight fabric I purchased would not be able to hide the wrinkles in the warped fiberglass ceiling. It looked like it was going to be three strikes and you’re out for this project.

My mom, who’ll never let me forget this, then suggested adhering my new (thicker) hull liner that I was saving for the sides of the forward berth, to the ceiling. With nothing else to lose, we gave it a shot. Lo and behold the thicker fabric hid the fiberglass blemishes well and after almost a year, I no longer had to worry about slicing my head on a bolt, screw or a stray piece of wood.

Feeling extra confident, my dad and I tackled the engine prep with vengeance. After breezing through a fuel filter and impeller swap, it was time to fire it up. When starting a marine engine on land you have to place the intake hose, which sucks in the water that cools the engine, in a bucket of water. A quick twist of the key and the engine fired right up!

Everything was going smoothly … until … it wasn’t. The engine had consumed the last drop of the water from the bucket and my old man signaled for me to shut off the engine. I pushed the stop button but nothing happened. The only thing that stopped was my heart. Before I could mutter the words “oh $hit” my old man was yelling, “shut it off!” I slammed on the stop button for all I was worth but it was not responding. Knowing that the engine would completely burn up in another minute we cut the fuel line to the engine hoping to stall it out. Time seemed to stop as the engine continued running like a runaway train towards a cliff. I said a quick prayer to the god of diesel engines and slammed the stop button one last time. This time it did stop. As quickly as the Chinese fire drill had started, it was over. I would later learn that the long winter had taken its toll on the simple switch, which had gotten jammed.

A cold sweat still forms at my brow when thinking about how much worse things could have gone.  I remain thankful that a new switch and a fuel line were the only things added to my work order and not replacing the engine.

With that hiccup out of the way, my merry band of helpers and I took to more leisurely and cosmetic chores, like painting the interior. This touch really helped to breathe new life into the once-dreary cabin.

With the weekend’s work finished and the smell of fresh paint wafting through the warm-spring air, I sat on the cabin steps sipping a cold beer and thinking about all the mistakes I made (and there were plenty of them) and the challenges Karen and I faced during the interior restoration. I realize now that it is the valleys that really make you appreciate the peaks.


Remembering a Friend

As a younger lad, if I wasn’t sprinting down the dock with my bicycle or Razor scooter, I was usually circling it aboard my parent’s dinghy with a classic (read: loud and slow) 4-hp Evinrude outboard like a pestering green fly. Or I may have been found at the end of the dock casting for snappers, and more often than not hooking our neighbor’s boat instead.

Yes, life on the dock at Wantagh Park marina where my parents kept their boat, was good. No matter how many times my brother and I came tearing through a dockside-cocktail party, (read: every weekend) the group of boaters we shared the dock with always treated us well. Whether it was sharing a tootsie-roll pop, or a can of soda, or throwing a ball for a few hours while I learned to swing a bat, that group of people became something of a dysfunctional family to me.

Alas, adulthood and responsibilities find us all one day and I don’t get to visit the old dock as much as I’d like to. When I do manage a visit, it’s always a treat. No longer running with a Huffy bike under one arm and a super soaker under the other, I now get to stop and share a laugh with everyone and it feels as if nothing has changed.

It came as a shock to learn that a long-time friend from the dock named Debbie Rupert lost her battle with cancer recently. She was one of those people who were constantly there when I was growing up, offering a friendly smile along with an ice-cold can of Coke. She was simply a genuine and caring person. I, along with everyone who knew her, will miss her.

Debbie (at the far left) was everything you could hope for in a friend and neighbor.
Debbie (at the far left) was everything you could hope for in a friend and neighbor.

I don’t know what it is about boating that attracts some of the best people. Perhaps it’s the extra vitamin D or libations we consume. Or maybe it’s the fact that we understand having a conversation in the cockpit of a boat is infinitely more meaningful than a weekend spent in front of a television. Whatever the reason, I am sure glad that I spent much of my childhood on the dock and that I can count people like Debbie Rupert as a friend.

A Virtual Stroll Around the Miami Boat Show

While a polar vortex swirled and a wicked-winter storm blanketed New England in ice and snow, I escaped to the sunshine state to thaw out and visit the Miami Boat Show. The warm air welcomed me like an old friend and my fixed-winter-scowl quickly melted away. Strutting on the docks in a pair of Sperrys reminded me that boating season, as it always seems to do, will in fact return in a few months. Enjoy a virtual stroll around the show here: