Mast Head-ache

After finalizing much of the logistics necessary to purchase my boat it was finally time to bring her from Warren R.I. down to her new home at Clark’s Boat Yard in Jamestown, R.I.

It was early on a still Saturday morning; my girlfriend, Karen and I met up with the boat’s original owner, who had generously volunteered to join us on our maiden voyage. Together the three of us ventured out to where she was moored. Approaching my vessel not as a visitor but as a new owner provided a totally different rush.

At that moment I was filled with the excitement only comparable to buying your first car, or a young boy on Christmas morning. It took a bit of effort to transition from jumping-on-the-bed-excited to focused on the trip at hand. I fired up the diesel, slipped free of the mooring, grabbed a hold of the wheel and made my way towards the channel.

Leaving Warren behind our zig-zagged turbulence (hey, it’s a new boat) to take her to her new home really helped solidify the feeling that this boat was really mine. Eventually I got acquainted with the steering and was able to keep her straightened out. The volleyball-sized knot in my stomach began to loosen with each buoy we passed. For the next hour or so, Scott the previous owner and I swapped boating stories. Though he owned several boats, most of his favorite stories had taken place aboard this one. As he recounted trips made to Block Island he tapped the hull. It was obvious he was second-guessing the sale.

As we neared Newport, we decided to shut off the engine to give sailing a shot, (which was when the knot in my stomach re-tangled itself, with vengeance).  We had very light air that morning but just as Scott was showing me the ropes, the wind picked up to 10-12 knots. Just enough. We raised the mainsail and then the jib. Once the sails were set, I ran back to the wheel and as Scott gave me a reassuring nod, I smiled and turned the boat into the wind for the first time. The wind grabbed the sails and we were once again underway.

The first thing that amazed me was how quiet everything was. With just the sound of the bay lapping against the hull and the occasional powerboat off in the distance it was eerily silent. I loved it. As Karen and I practiced tacking, Scott kicked back to soak in some rays and enjoy his final time on the boat.

Cutting back and forth in the empty bay, Scott was quick with advice when asked, yet was careful not to critique Karen and I as we fumbled around the boat. We were having such a great time we even asked Scott to snap a couple pictures (on the header). After a few hours of sailing, we decided that we’d had our fun for the day and decided to find our mooring and get our new friend/sailing instructor home.

With Scott at the wheel keeping us upwind, I took down the sails. I couldn’t help but beam with the pride that I think only comes with successfully sailing for the first time. I’m not a fan of clichés but I have to say, life was good.


A loud noise echoed right next to my foot where I discovered a four-inch piece of wood. I picked up the soft white wood; not immediately knowing where it came from, I glanced back to Scott who was starring up at the top of the mast, mouth agape. My heart sank immediately. As I peered to the top of the 35-foot mast a second and third scrap of wood came crashing down to the deck.

The top of the mast looked as if it has been split down the middle with the right and left sides of the mast folding out like banana peels.


Even now, after the incident, it is hard to find the words to talk about this turn of events. Going from one of the highest moments of sailing your first boat to seeing it crumble before your eyes was for a lack of better words, humbling.

It appeared that the release of tension of the sails on the mast caused the (recently discovered) water logged top of the mast to break apart.

I looked back at Scott again, with a look that I’m sure made him wonder if he could swim to shore.

He explained that he had no idea that the mast was suffering from water damage. The look of pain in his face, which I’m sure matched my own made me think he was telling me the truth.

I went on to find our mooring, return to shore and begin to drive Scott the 45 minutes back to Warren. During the drive we spent a few minutes speculating as to the severity of the damage to the mast but mostly we sat in silence. The silence I had cherished an hour before was now agonizing.

As we finally dropped Scott off,  he urged me to keep him posted on the mast damage and to contact him with whatever he could do to fix the mast. I learned that a good previous owner could be a very valuable resource. (Note to self: so is a survey!)


My first sleepless night

I am a notoriously sound sleeper. I’ve slept through many a New Years celebration, thunderstorms, even the odd hurricane. But the night after I purchased my first boat, a 1961 Rhodes Chesapeake, I found myself in the unique situation off staring up at the ceiling.

All I could think about was my recent purchase and the affects it would have on me. My bravery that had been front and center earlier in the day faded as every sleepless hour passed. Was this smart financially, will I even be able to sail it, and can I really restore it like I was so certain I could?

The next day after a few winks of sleep, I turned my focus to the Web, determined to find the answers to all those questions. Terms like bill of sale, notary, registration, insurance, sales tax, and winter storage cost seemed to reach out from my monitor and slap me across the face. I quickly realized that buying a boat would take more than a check and a handshake.

Now in a cold sweat, I decided the first thing I needed to find was a local mooring to keep the boat for the few weeks after the sale. An hour of searching and a few phone calls led me to Clark’s Boat Yard in Jamestown R.I., which was only 10 minutes from my apartment in Newport. The price was right, the staff seemed friendly over the phone and their website boasted stunning images of Newport Harbor and the iconic Pell Bridge.

As quickly as I began daydreaming about this location, I ran into a obstacle. The hiccup was Clark’s required insurance before renting me the mooring. A bit of hunting on the Internet led to a patient woman at a local insurance company who informed me I could recieve coverage immediately as long as I got the boat surveyed first. Great, right? Well not really.

You see, in order to get insurance I needed a survey, but in order to get hauled and get the survey, I needed insurance. Jeeze!

My next call was a second one to Clark’s, this time not as a frazzled madman but as someone calmly looking for advice. When I explained to them that I was in over my head they patiently provided advice on insurance and the type of rider I should try to get. A phone call to Boat U.S. with this information about a rider in mind and I was insured.

The following night, I met with the boat’s owner to finalize the sale, which thankfully went rather smoothly. A few forms and the big check later, I was officially a sailboat owner!

The (now previous) owner even offered to come along on my maiden voyage to make sure I got it to Jamestown all right. An offer I immediately accepted.

Reflecting on this series of events, I realize now that I have already committed my first mistake in boat ownership, which is trying to figure everything out at once. In this sport, I don’t think you ever really have it figured out. There is always more to learn, and there is ALWAYS someone out there who knows more than you. Lucky for me, I have found that many seasoned boaters are generous with their time and advice.

Bird Crap, Craigslist and my Diamond in the Rough

A constant desire to be out on the water is something of an occupational hazard I face working as a marine journalist, which in a way makes sense. Day after day stories of turquoise water, wide-open diesel engines and adventure pass across my desk. This sparked what would become two serious past times, daydreaming and browsing on Craigslist for my first boat.

I’m not stranger to boating, much of my life has been spent cruising aboard my parent’s 33-foot Egg Harbor. Summer vacations from our homeport on Long Island to northern destinations like Maine and Montreal and southern destinations like the Bahamas instilled in me a love for the sport. It’s no surprise that I would one day want to own a boat of my own, the shock would come in the type of boat I was pursuing. I wanted a…sailboat (gasp). Living in the sailing capital of the world, Newport, RI, and watching beautiful boats silently and gracefully glide across the picturesque harbor by harnessing the wind fascinated me. Jumping at a handful of chances to ride along these, to me, mythical creatures and I was hooked.

I would spend months scouring Craigslist.  Not to toot my own horn, but over the last few months, I had gotten pretty darn good at navigating that site. I mean, I knew all the tricks. No picture? Not for me. I would scan the price, name and models, selecting only those that fit my initial criteria. If I did click on the link, I would be able to separate the serious sellers from the scam artists within seconds.

Once in a while a chosen few made it to my next round, where I would request more images and information, which is where most of my searches would ultimately end, until the other day. While doing some evening scanning, I came across two sailboats that made me do a double take. One was a 25-foot Catalina that was the right price and came with all the toys. The second was a 32-foot Rhodes. A bit outside my price range, she didn’t come with any of the bells and whistles and needed serious cosmetic work, but her sleek lines were speaking to me, asking to take a closer look. I arranged to view both boats that weekend with my girlfriend, Karen, who would keep me from making any rash decisions, or so I hoped.

Our first stop was the Catalina 25. The owner would not be there but the tender launch service at his marina would take us out to her and we could look around from there. Standing proudly across the flat calm harbor, she was pretty from afar. I thought she could be “the one.” As the tender pulled up along side her, my heart sank. The entire boat, from bow to outboard was absolutely covered in seagull excrement.

“I’ve got to pick up some other people, did you want to look around or do you want me to just take you back?” asked the tender launch operator.

I had come too far not to at least go aboard. I (literally) dragged Karen aboard too.

“You have to look past the crap,” I pleaded, as I opened the cabinets with my foot. We ventured below into the cabin, where the smell of mildew hit me like a stiff jab. Karen’s face showed that she was less than thrilled.

boat 1 (1)

“You have to smell past the smell,” I begged, while breathing through my mouth. We quickly wrapped up our tour and flagged down the tender.

We drove in silence to our next viewing. We met with the owner of the Rhodes 32 who took us aboard his fishing boat, and around the corner to where she was moored.

Love at first sight may sound a bit cheesy, but when I saw the light beige hull and the tall wooden mast glistening off the water, my pulse quickened significantly.

I hopped aboard the boat, walked past the wooden ships wheel and took a lap around the (excrement free) topsides. While it was obvious that a coat of paint and some serious TLC on the brightwork was needed, I saw her potential immediately. A lap around the interior revealed that while some finishing touches were necessary, she certainly had character to spare.

I opened up her hood and saw a pristine 2004 30-hp Yanmar diesel. A young heart pounding inside a classic, it seemed we had much in common.

With the best poker face I could muster, which I imagine still showed an obvious smirk, we began talking price. When the owner threw out a bottom line below what I was expecting, I responded with three little words; the words that have both defined and haunted boaters for centuries.

“I’ll take it!”