5 Lessons In Having Fun on a Boat

Swinging on a mooring on a beautiful sunny Saturday in Hamburg Cove, just a few minutes from Essex, Karen and I were enjoying some quiet time reading in the cockpit. Our afternoon entertainment would be provided by our neighbor in an express cruiser with a cockpit filled with kids.

At first glance they didn’t appear to be your normal kids. There was not an iPad nor iPhone anywhere in sight; the boys are girls were chatting with each other in an animated fashion. The owner/father tied a line to StandUp Paddleboard and tossed in the placid water behind his boat. Like well-trained golden retrievers the children jumped in after it. An epic game of “King of the Board” would soon ensue.

We left for a long dinghy ride just as things were really heating up. After a couple hours of exploring Seldon Creek to the north we returned to our mooring and were shocked to see the kids still splashing around in the water. Twisting the top off a cold beer to celebrate all the exercise my dinghy outboard got, I was getting tired just watching these kids.

These kids would continue swimming, jumping, paddling and well, just being kids even as the evening rays gave way to moonlight.

Growing up on a boat I enjoyed similar simplicities such as swimming long after your fingers had pruned, perfecting your cannonball technique, and enjoying a crispy hotdog from the grill. When family friends or fellow cruisers were aboard my brother and I would sit with them and be part of the conversation, even if we had very little to contribute to the topic at hand. It was a childhood I hope every kid gets the chance to experience, if even for a short while.Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 7.36.19 PM

As Karen and I heard the gaggle of kids scream, as kids do, before splashing into the water for the umpteenth time, Karen mentioned how it was nice to see kids actually enjoying the outdoors instead of being glued to a screen. I nodded in agreement as a screech came across the quiet cove, “I’m king of the boaarrrdddd!”

So I would only be slightly annoyed when I heard the distinctive sound of a perfectly executed cannonball at 7 the next morning.

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 7.35.09 PM I’m sure some of my neighbors found the screaming kids to be annoying at times, but I really didn’t mind it. I saw a lot of myself in those constantly splashing children. In fact, I’m thankful they were there to remind me of a few things; such as

  • It’s impossible not to smile while doing a cannonball
  • You can do cannonball without screaming “cannonballllll!!” before hand, but it’s more fun if you do
  • Charred hot dogs after swimming tastes better than the best cut of steak on a normal day
  • It’s OK to fall asleep at 8:30 after a full day on the water
  • If you want to swim as soon as you wake up, do it. Anybody rolling their eyes at you is just jealous.

Thanks for the reminder, kids.

Breaking Murphy’s Law

I like to think that there’s an alternate universe where best laid plans actually come to fruition; a place where anchors set on the first try, seas lie flat on travel days and spare parts stay sealed and tucked away in the bottom drawer. In short, if such a universe existed, it would be the opposite of this past weekend in Essex.

The plan was for my folks and family friends to cruise up the river and spend the weekend, while my brother and his girlfriend would drive up to meet us. It all seemed simple enough. Then our friends had a medical scare that forced them to return to the dock one day into their vacation. My parent’s port prop was introduced to one of the many semi-submerged logs floating in the Sound, causing them to limp in one engine. And as for my brother, Murphy’s Law visited him in the form of a dead battery when he stopped in the middle of Connecticut. Not really the start to the weekend I was expecting.

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The staff at Brewer Dauntless carefully raise the Sharon Ann.

But before you think this is a sad story, think again. In today’s world of watching out for only numero uno, we encountered a lot of people willing to offer a helping hand. A perfect stranger helped jump my brother’s truck before leading him to the auto parts store for a replacement battery. The staff at Brewer Dauntless Marina would call in staff in on a Sunday to haul my parent’s Egg Harbor and pull the props. It would have been easy for them to leave the boat on land while waiting for the folks at the nearby Hale Propeller to scan and fix the props but they insisted on towing the boat back to their original slip as to not disturb our weekend plans.

Our friend’s vacation may have ended abruptly but the medial diagnosis yielded a wholly treatable condition, for which we were all thankful.

We may have all met up a little later than expected and after a trying morning it would have been understandable if everyone were a bit grouchy. But faster than you can say “let’s go to the pool,” we were relaxing and having a good time. The evening would prove to be equal parts simple and pleasant. With a couple racks of ribs and corn on the grill, we enjoyed some beverages and caught up. Our nightly entertainment was courtesy a wildly-over-the-top party on a Sea Ray at the end of the dock. Loud club music and frequent shrieks of “whoop-whoop” was hysterical when heard from afar.

Breaking out a game of Catch Phrase (which always seems like a good idea at the time) would elicit a similar, albeit more sober, intensity. By the time we put the game away only one death threat had been made, which is pretty good.

Sunday provided us with a brilliantly beautiful morning and while most of the crew probably would have liked to stroll and shop in town, I had other plans. As loyal readers know, I have been in the grips of a fierce battle with crap-filled cormorants and my guests were unknowingly about to become my recruits. Armed with spike strips and reflecting tape, I planned on converting my classically inspired wooden mast into an intimidating death stick.

Together my parents, brother and Karen carefully and slowly pulled me to the top of the mast. I guess I took a little too long setting my spikes because next thing I knew everyone tied down the lines they were holding so they could better critique my work. “Swing your whole body out to the side,” suggested my old man. With a tie wrap stuck between my teeth, one arm around the mast and the other tying down the strip, I mustered through gritted teeth, “oh yeah, no problem.”

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Yes, I’m sure I’m doing it right!

When the chores had ended we retreated back to the pool before all going our separate ways. A lot of obstacles originally stood in-between us and a successful weekend, but that’s the great thing about boating; it doesn’t take much to create a great weekend on the water. You don’t need reservations, or a big crowd; or as I would relearn: plans. Some of the best memories come from the simple spontaneous things like a stupid game, horsing around in a pool, or completing a simple project.

Murphy’s Law be damned.

A Terrible, Perfect Night

Tired, frustrated, and drenched in sweat, I spun the Karen Marie in a tight circle to retrieve my lost boat hook that was lodged in the chain of a mooring ball and now protruded straight up from the water like a big middle finger. No, my evening was not going according to plan.

My original vision for the night began with a nice easy wash-down of the boat, which in recent weeks had become a bombing strip for cormorant crap. Then Karen and I would enjoy a cold drink or two on our glistening boat, enjoying all that is right in the boating world.

Well, as the old saying goes, when it rains it pours. With a temperature near 90 and not even a zephyr to cool us off, we were sopping with sweat. We’d wash the boat from bow to stern and then notice some stubborn spots we missed. We scrubbed and scrubbed. My suggestion to Karen that she “try using some elbow grease” was met with a look that suggested I was in for a world or more than bird crap.

From there I spilled some content from our porta-potty on my hands while en route to empty it. Simmering at this point now, we returned to grab our mooring, which we’d done a hundred times. This time our pickup stick (a float used for easily retrieving a mooring line) broke off and our mooring line became impossible to grab. “It’s fine, we’ll grab one of the empty moorings then I’ll fix it,” I said. Good plan but then our boat hook got stuck in the before-mentioned chain of the mooring ball, ripping it out of Karen’s hands.

By the time we retrieved our boat hook, fixed our original mooring ball and tied the boat up for the night, my pride hurt more than the sweat in my eyes.

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Annoyed yet determined to salvage some of the night, I stripped down to my boxers and dove into the water. And I have to say, I surfaced feeling like a new man. I swam over and grabbed a hold of the dinghy with one hand and let the four-knot current rush passed me. Looking back towards shore, I watched as the pink and purple remnants from sunset slowly disappeared. Karen even agreed to join me in the raft and sit with her feet in the water.

The harbor was whisper quiet, such that the only sound was the rushing tide that carried away the stress from the day’s many mishaps.

Driving the dingy to shore at 5:15 this morning, my eyes still blurry and adjusting to the first rays of sunlight, Karen said, “I definitely think we should do this more often.” Thinking back to all the work it took just a few moments of peacefulness I responded, “absolutely.”

New York State of Mind

With summer weekends getting snatched up faster than you can say “we’re going boating,” Karen and I were determined to spend the 3-day 4th of July weekend doing some overdue cruising. So at 0700 on Friday we meandered down the Connecticut River to the Sound. We sailed against an incoming tide in very light air for the better part of an hour. Music was cranking, the sun was shinning, and all was right in the world. That is until I looked back and saw, well pretty much the exact same scenery I had been looking at an hour prior.IMG_1922

“OK, we tried,” I shrugged as we fired up the engine and set a more direct course to Long Island’s Gardiners Bay and our intended destination of Shelter Island. A fleet of fishing boats, a ripping tide, and ferries kept us on our toes and justified a few early afternoon beers (as if justification was really needed.)

With all the island’s slips and moorings filled thanks to the nearby Tall Ship Festival in Greenport, we were constrained to a small anchorage in the corner of Coecles Harbor. The clear-blue water looked almost drinkable and made for some serene afternoon swimming. If you’re cruising this area, I highly recommend this anchorage as the holding there is excellent.

But even the best anchoring conditions don’t totally dispel my phobia of dragging anchor, so we didn’t spend too much exploring the island; I hope to return, rent bikes and see what else Shelter has to offer. But for now, I’ll fondly remember the simplicity of swimming, reading a good book and some long dinghy rides.

The following morning, anticipating dreary weather and dreading a long day hiding in the cabin, we set out for Three Mile Harbor, East Hampton. It was a two-hour trek to the harbor but it was definitely worth it. The Harbor was well protected, and lined with lush green forest. It was a beautiful spot even in less-than stellar weather.

The early start to the day coupled with two nights on the boat left Karen and I with different cravings. She really wanted to use a bathroom/shower ashore and I wanted to find breakfast foods. Suffice it to say, the mooring line had barley kissed the cleat before we were in the dinghy bound for shore.

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It must have been early into our walk.

Once there I fired up my cell phone and typed in b-r-e-a-k-f-a-s-t. Nothing. In today’s instant gratification world we were in a fabled dead zone. We opted to set out on foot. “How far could it be until we hit town?” I foolishly wondered aloud. (Editors note: Blinded by a hunger for bacon and coffee, I neglected to think to myself “you know, just maybe they call this place Three Mile Harbor because, I don’t know…it’s three miles long?”)

In our haste we neglected to change out of the clothes we were wearing during the chilly sail over; our outfits were comprised of jeans, multiple shirts and raincoats. Our remaining essentials were stuffed into a red-drawstring bag. In short order the sun broke through the cloud cover providing a hot and humid backdrop for our quest. During our walk I would see something that looked like a diner, which would give us hope. “No, it’s only an old station wagon,” Karen would comment on my many mirages. 4.26 miles later we arrived in town.

Before us in neat little rows were stores emblazoned with names like Michael Kors, J Crew, Lululemon, Lilly Pulitzer etc. Frenzied flocks of hipsters shuffled between stores with multiple bags in hand, stopping only for triple macchiatos from one of the two Starbucks. It’s safe to say that we stuck out like, well, we stuck out like sailors in the Hamptons. We grabbed breakfast at a small deli on the outskirts of town before I relented to visiting some stores with Karen. Considering the 4th is also our anniversary, my wallet trembled with fear.

You can imagine my delight when after visiting two stores Karen suggested we skip the crowds and catch a mid-afternoon movie. “Woooo-hooo! Umm, I mean yeah ok, we can do that. Why don’t you go ahead and pick out some candy too!”

After a couple hours of relaxing and watching Ted 2 we stepped outside to realize the crowds had doubled in size. That cab ride back to the boat we were hoping for would not be in the forecast. We wrapped our blistered toes in Band-Aids and trekked back.

The glass-half-full part of this story is that we had once again earned some evening drinks and dinner at the East Hampton Point Restaurant. The pain from blistered feet seemed to melt away as we enjoyed a nice meal served with a stunning view of the sunset over the harbor (or maybe that was the alcohol, I digress). The meal was great but the weekend left a renewed appetite for cruising to new places. So, from now until October don’t be surprised to hear us say, “we can’t, we’re going boating.”

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See you next winter.

Boat Deliveries and Unlikely friendships

The morning of our last day aboard Gizmo began with a heightened sense of urgency. 106 miles, 4- to 6-foot seas, and almost 20 knots of wind stood between us and Camden, but we were determined, come hell or following seas, to get there. The hatches were battened down, and loose cameras and other assorted gear was stowed away and secured.

Leaving Isle of Shoals, off New Hampshire, in sloppy conditions, it was immediately apparent that we were in for a long day (cruising speed was an average of 9 knots). Our Duffy 37 slipped and slid down the backs of waves; the autopilot was frequently turned to standby as we slalomed through patches of lobster traps. After an hour of standing wide-legged and braced at the helm, fatigue would start to creep in. The casual watch schedule that Ellison and I had been keeping was replaced by a strict hour-on, hour-off schedule. The watch changes allowed the helmsman to be as fresh as possible, and we kept at it for most of the day.

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Like many things in life, the challenging conditions we faced made our long-awaited approach into Camden that much sweeter. Conifer-covered mountains protruded from the sea in front of our bow; Ellison’s smile grew as friends threw him a wave in the inner harbor. “Man I really love it here,” said Ellison as he exhaled a deep breath of crisp, clean air.

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In short order we tied Gizmo to her floating dock in the harbor, then made our way to the Ellison estate, which Ben himself built in the 1970s. After some much-needed showers, and even-more-needed glasses of wine, we found ourselves, and his lovely wife, Andrea sitting on his porch in the shade of Camden’s Mt. Battie.

We began the time-honored tradition of recounting tales from our five-day adventure. “You wouldn’t believe this burger joint we went to in Plymouth,” Ben would say. “Oh, tell Andrea about pulling into Isle of Shoals, this is a good one.”…“Yeah, then this group on the dock started chanting in unison.” Story-swapping would continue until two bottles of vino—and our remaining energy—had been polished off.

I had joined this delivery to increase my navigation and marine electronics knowledge, which I gained in spades. But the more important take away for me was how time on the water can form the most unlikely of friendships. Before pulling away from Essex, Ben and I were professional acquaintances whose only shared experiences were a couple dozen e-mails. And aside from a similar profession we’re almost as different as they come. Where Ben enjoys listening to countless hours (and I mean COUNTLESS HOURS) of talk radio and spending time with his grandchildren, I prefer country music and often have a friend from college crashing in my cramped apartment. We have very different opinions on the meaning of “optimum cruising speed” and our preferred bedtime differed by a good four hours.

Shared experiences and a common goal at sea have a funny way of erasing all those land-based differences and forming what I hope to be a long-lasting friendship.

Camden harbor

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Four Lessons in Using Modern Marine Electronics ● Auto Routing has a long way to go: A function I got to test on multiple manufacturers MFDs was the auto-routing function. Now, to be fair, each system warns users that auto-routing is not a replacement for proper course plotting and that’s a good thing. Most auto routing had us running on the wrong side of buoys, over shallow shoals, and running too close to shore. This function is best used to create a quick and dirty route that you then change and tweak to ensure safe cruising. ● No search function that I could find: Most new MFDs lack a search function that helps you locate a particular marina quickly. This would have been extremely helpful when I was trying to locate Scituate after exiting the Cape Cod Canal. When getting bounced in choppy seas is not the time to be scrolling along the coast in search of a port you’ve never been to. ● Keep it simple: Gizmo has dozens of screens across her expansive helms. Information overload is a very real thing, unless you’re electronics guru Ben Ellison. Having forward-looking and side-scanning sonar systems, fishfinders, instrumentation, charts, numerous split-screen radars etc. can easily distract you from the basics of boating, like staying in between the buoys. Just because you have insane functionality doesn’t mean you have to use it. ● Hard-key autopilot controls are king in rough conditions: Ben had his upper helm equipped with a hard-key autopilot control, which was easy to use even in rough seas. The MFD touchscreen control was much more difficult (for me) to use when things got lumpy. I’d intend to change our course by a few degrees quickly then accidentally hit the +10 degrees that would send us way of course. I eventually chose to hand steer around lobster pots.

Smooth seas, cheap fuel, and surviving a cult

Delivering Gizmo, a Duffy 37, with her owner Ben Ellison, who serves as Senior Electronics Editor for Power & Motoryacht and the AIM Marine Group, we found day three would be a lay day in Plymouth, Massachusetts, courtesy large seas and strong winds, which ended up being a blessing in disguise. I got to go ashore and reconnect with my land-based responsibilities and Ben took to cleaning and prepping Gizmo for the next leg of our trip.

In the evening we reconvened ashore for dinner. We settled upon KKatie’s Burger Bar, just a short walk from the boat and both determined it was the home of the best burgers we’ve ever had. If you’re cruising in the area, take note!

Fishing boats

Cruising conditions on day four stood in stark contrast to the last two days; after a few hours of easy cruising atop flat seas we made it to Gloucester, Massachusetts, an iconic fishing town that was cast into the spotlight by the events and later the book and the film of The Perfect Storm. It was there that Ellison—who suffers from a condition known as being a sailor—set out to find the “most affordable” fuel in New England. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scratching my head as Gizmo, a pristine and elegant yacht, was squeezed into a tiny space between a wrecked schooner and a fuel barge named Capt. Dan to save a few cents per gallon. Ellison would get the last laugh as we ended up paying $2.36 (without tax) per gallon of diesel. This is down from the $3.36 they were charging in Plymouth.

Gizmo getting fuel

With Ben now wearing a proud smile, we continued on through the Annisquam Canal to the Gulf of Maine. From there I got a decent stretch of time at the helm and with the electronics. As I had hoped, I began to become familiar with the once-dizzying helm, to the point where I found a particular setup that I preferred.

As swells started to build, we sought shelter in the lee of a group of islands off the New Hampshire coast called Isle of Shoals. Owned by a private religious organization, the island gave off a strange vibe (for movie buffs reading this, the place looked like the island featured in the Leonardo DiCaprio film Shutter Island). As Ben and I got settled in, a small ferry departed the nearby dock. A group that had gathered dockside to see the passengers off began to sing/chant in unison, “You will come back, you will come back, you will come back.”

rocksMy eyebrows rose in a sign of shock; and my first instinct was to cut the mooring line and head straight for the mainland before being force-fed Kool-Aid.

Ultimately our curiosity surpassed our fear and we rowed ashore to explore the rocky Star Island. It would prove to be a fascinating small island with a chapel, old homes, and a massive hotel that all date back hundreds of years. The only sign of modern technology was an expansive fleet of solar panels; it was a strange juxtaposition to see it next to a jagged, rocky coast. We were both glad to have visited the island, sans Kool-Aid.

Up bright and early tomorrow for the final leg to Camden. I’m sure it’ll be just as memorable as the last few days.

Delivery from Essex to Maine

The sound of waves crashing on the jetty waft through the saloon, while Power & Motoryacht’s (the magazine I work for) Senior Electronics Editor Ben Ellison—illuminated by a single red LED overhead, pecks at his keyboard. He’s toggling between plotting the next day’s course on Coastal Explorer and answering questions posted on his electronics blog, panbo.com.

“This guy is asking a question about the very thing we’re doing right at this moment,” Ellison says, his eyes glued to his oversized monitor. “Wi-Fi out on the water can be complicated.”

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It’s 10:00 pm after a hectic day. Ellison spent five hours teaching an intensive “Soup to Nuts Navigation” class at the International Cruising Boat Expo held at Brewer Essex Island Marina in Essex, Connecticut, a course where he led new and experienced boaters through the finer points of course plotting. Later in the course he led small groups to his floating electronics laboratory—his 37-foot Duffy, aptly named Gizmo—to share some insight on equipping a helm.

“You’ll never see another boat like this,” laughs Ellison, while his students ogle an MFD-filled helm and four (yes, the man has four) radars. He walks through the various MFDs and explains what some of the strengths and weaknesses are of each.

Gizmo's five radars

Shortly after class is dismissed, Ellison is scurrying about his boat, tidying up and preparing to shove off. The water tank is filled; lines and fenders are stowed away.

Once away from the dock, Ellison finds a seat at the centerline helm of his flying bridge and begins doing what he does best, fidgeting with electronics while his boat makes its way out the Connecticut River to the Long Island Sound. After months of cruising, teaching, and testing, he is finally returning to his homeport of Camden, Maine.

I joined Ellison under the guise of helping him during the delivery. The truth is I fully expect to get more out of this trip than he will. My current electronic-navigation arsenal includes a 5-inch Garmin GPS and Navionics loaded on my girlfriend’s pink iPad mini. A trip with the guru of marine electronics aboard a boat with, again, four freakin’ radars, I’m bound to get an education that isn’t offered in any class.

So with light winds and calm seas, we logged 46 miles from Essex to Point Judith’s Harbor of Refuge. Having MFDs from Garmin, Raymarine, Furuno, and Simrad in your face was overwhelming, but I have a feeling I’ll get a lot of time to practice with them during this delivery. Stay tuned.

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Strong Winds, Towel Blankets and Adult Jenga

I had a secret agenda for the mini delivery of the Karen Marie from Jamestown to Essex; the plan was to bring my brother along both for the extra pair of hands and to plant the boat ownership seed into his subconscious. Standing at the wheel, soaked to the bone, wind burnt, and shivering on the first leg, I was fairly certain I had succeeded in sending him running for the hills.

“You’ll want to bring a couple books for the ride, and don’t forget your bathing suit,” I texted him days before our trip.

A wetsuit would have been more appropriate.

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Our trip started ordinarily enough. Egg sandwiches, hot coffee, naps and snapping pictures highlighted the first couple hours of the journey. Rounding Point Judith and turning into 2- to 3- foot chop, and 20 knots of wind flipped the switch on all that. It was the most miserable time on a boat that I’ve ever experienced. We were pummeled for hours–which felt like days–until we found the channel to Stonington, CT.

After finding our mooring, we took to the next tasks at hand: hanging sheets, pillowcases and clothes on the lifelines to dry while enjoying a few well-deserved adult beverages. In short order my once-proud classic yacht took on the appearance of a homeless shelter.

Once on land, hot showers and dinner at the marina restaurant, Dog Watch Café thawed our cold and clammy crew.

After a nice meal, Karen, Ryan and I opted for a peaceful nightcap out on the restaurant’s back deck before calling it a day. This was going to plan just fine until we spotted an adult Jenga set. (You know, the game where you pull blocks from a wooden tower until it topples over, but this one was much bigger.) Now if you know my brother and I, you know we’re what some people call “stupid competitive.” Video games and bike rides in our younger days turned into more brawls than my parents care to know about. So it shouldn’t come as a shock to learn that our game attracted a crowd of onlookers who critiqued each move.

Yours truly won the game and no bloody noses ensued; so we can file the night away in the win column.

Leg two from Stonington to Essex was drier that our first leg, but man was it cold! Combine 45 degree air temperature with sustained 20 knot winds on the nose and throw in a splash of salt spray and you have a recipe for a very long morning. Double socks stuffed into Sperrys and towels doubling as blankets made for rather unique fashion statements.

After hours of sitting on our hands, we finally made our way up the Connecitcut River. Lighthouses, a pair of bridges and plenty of boat traffic provided a lot to look at after spending so much time in the middle of the Sound. Finally appearing off our bow, the quaint town of Essex appeared like a postcard from a small Maine village. Frown lines from cold crew morphed into wide grins after tying up to the mooring. High fives all around signified a successful end to the trip.

Long naps and hours of leisurely reading may not have come to fruition on this delivery but few memories worth making ever started with “remember that time we went swimming after a peaceful passage?” I’m sure this trip will be something we all remember for a long time.

Special Send-Off

Narragansett Bay was exploding with activity. The sound of blaring horns and the Star Spangled Banner provided the soundtrack to which hundreds of boats of all shapes and sizes crisscrossed one another at high speeds. I’ve seen this level of nautical pandemonium before but it’s typically reserved for the fourth of July.

The day’s pomp and circumstance was caused by the departure of the Volvo Ocean Race—a grueling around the world sailing race—from Newport. Watching all these boats, many of which were launched early for the sole purpose of seeing these sailors off assuaged any doubt as to whom the title sailing capital of America truly belonged to.

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It took steely determination to not crack a cold one, sit on the dock and watch the VOR boats cut and jibe through the crowd. But just a day out from launching, Karen and I were forced to return to the ever-growing to-do list. From loading provisions, prepping the dingy, attaching the mail sail and tending to lingering brightwork, our plate was full.

And let me tell you, chores like sanding a toe rail (again!) or fumbling with the tiny clasps that attach the sail to the mast never seem as monotonous as when hundreds of people are out having a blast just yards away. I felt like that kid who has to sit in the library and study while all his friends are out on the town.

A few cold glares from Karen would shake me from my daydreams and send me back to the tasks at hand. Together we cleaned, prepped, organized and got the Karen Marie ready for to launch. By the time all the work was done the harbor had become quiet once more. The boat traffic transformed into a parade of cars fleeing from Newport.

Before joining the procession, we stopped at Spinnakers in Jamestown for a couple scoops of ice cream. Nursing a cool cup of mint chip, I realized that despite an incredible difference in skill and craft, Karen and I weren’t so different than those Volvo Ocean Race sailors. We both came to Newport from a distant land, and had no idea what to expect. We were treated to world-class hospitality and in the end, leaving Newport for another adventure is bittersweet.

Next weekend, as the Karen Marie heads passed Castle Hill there won’t be hundreds of boats to see us off, no horns will blare and the Star Spangled Banner will be coming from my iPod instead of Fort Adams. But one thing is certain; for us it will be no less special.

Brighter Days Ahead

Spring commissioning is in full swing aboard the Karen Marie these days. The boom cover is getting stitched up, spare parts are on order and cluttered cabinets are starting to see some semblance of organization. On the list of chores to tackle this year is to refinish the topside brightwork, a project that has been underway since we first bought the boat 2 and a half years ago.

The toe rail—the wood trim around the perimeter of the boat—was first on the list, as was the companionway hatch and handrails. Constantly exposed to the sun and salt water, these sections need varnish for protection from the elements, but they’re also some of the first things people see when coming aboard. I typically don’t mind doing brightwork; the sanding and varnishing are mindless tasks that require only time to do correctly. Pop in your headphones and off you go.

This year Clark Boat Yard packed the boats in like sardines, requiring me to sand the rail while straddling both mine and my neighbor’s boat. I’d like to say I channeled my inner Michelle Kwan and nimbly sanded the toe rail down to bare wood. I’d like to say that after years of practice I applied the varnish with the brush control of the great Michaelangelo. I’d like to tell a lot of lies, but since my grandma reads this blog, I’ll confess: I haven’t been able to touch my toes since 2010, and as far as being nimble; I might as well have been wearing cinder blocks for shoes. And brush work like Michaelangelo, I was more like Picasso.

I’d be reaching down with my left hand to wipe up spilled varnish from the hull while my right hand was spilling more into the cockpit. It was a mess. It really is no wonder why sailors get such a bad rap for their foul language. Part of the reason for this mess was trying to finish too much in one day. Rush and cut corners when it comes to woodwork and the results will show clear as day.

Karen and I would go down to the boat again on Sunday to finish the job. With the extra help, I’m happy to report things went much smoother. After I would sand a section down, Karen would follow up with a rag and paint thinner, cleaning up the dust. While I varnished the outside of the toe rail she tackled the inside. Funny thing, I didn’t hear her curse once. With a tag-team effort we finished up at a respectable 2:00, with enough time to get back to Connecticut and enjoy some of the day.

The good news after all this is that I learned to not be a hero and recruit an extra pair of hands when possible. The bad news? Karen has a whole lot of varnishing in her future.