The Truth about Boat Trips

Most vacations begin with a few clicks of a mouse. Find a flight, hotel, punch in your credit card number, agonize over the tough choices, like choosing between a couple’s massage or a tee time, pack an extra pair of pants and a bathing suit, maybe a shirt with some flowers on it and you’re on your way! The details will work themselves out as the excitement for your trip begins to boil.

Preparing for a weeklong vacation aboard the Karen Marie was not as simple.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” –Mark Twain


Most vacations begin with a few clicks of a mouse. Find a flight, hotel, punch in your credit card number, agonize over the tough choices, like choosing between a couple’s massage or a tee time, pack an extra pair of pants and a bathing suit, maybe a shirt with some flowers on it and you’re on your way! The details will work themselves out as the excitement for your trip begins to boil.

Preparing for a weeklong vacation aboard the Karen Marie was not as simple. Try to imagine preparing and packing all the food and drinks you’ll need for a week, your fuel, water, clothes, and sheets. Then there is the need to get the boat ready. There are tanks to fill, rigging to inspect, cleaning, obtaining spare parts and more. Last, but certainly not least, you need to plan your route and watch the weather like a hawk stalking prey.

To prepare for our time aboard, I began making to-do lists. I had grocery lists, engine part lists, lists of things to get from West Marine. I even had a list telling me what other lists I needed to make! It was maddening.

One task on one such list stood out like a cardinal on a snowy day: Replace the mainsail halyard. This would require me to pull Karen to the top of the mast, a chore that we both dreaded. It took some serious negotiations but Karen finally agreed (read: relented) to be pulled to the top. Borrowing a bosun’s chair from our friends at Clark Boat Yard, Karen climbed into the harness and got clipped in. If ever she was going to contemplate getting rid of the boat, or me … or both, this was the time.

I cranked on our mast’s old bronze winches, pulling her up the 35-foot mast a few inches at a time until my shoulders screamed uncle. While catching my breath, I channeled my inner Lombardi and coached Karen to the top. Despite her bravery, the new halyard wouldn’t fit through the masthead. The new line was softer, and expanded when pushed through the tight space, making it impossible to pass through the pulley at the top. Frustrated and tired, our efforts were in vain. Thankfully, we were able to replace the halyard on attempt number two.

“We’re going to need a vacation from this vacation,” said Karen while catching her breath after climbing the mast.


She wasn’t wrong. Boat trips are unlike any others. They require long hours of planning. But when you cast off, and all that preparation is in your wake, that stress is replaced with something else, something that makes this crazy hobby worth it: the pride in knowing that you and your boat are prepared for the adventures ahead.

And that to-do list, now it only reads: explore, dream, discover.

Unplugged and Recharging

Gonna put the the world away for a minute 

Pretend I don’t live in it 

Sunshine gonna wash my blues away

Zac Brown

I would like to take a few minutes to talk about nomophobia – an epidemic that studies show affect 2 out of 3 Americans. Nomophobia is the fear of being without your cell phone. And for full discretion, I suffer from this disorder (the first step is acknowledging you have a problem, right?). From the time I wake up until my head returns to the pillow at night, I carry my phone with me. I’m on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (follow me @dharding89!). I read emails and texts from my cell throughout the day, and plug headphones into it while working out.

The other day I saw the dark side of this addiction. Karen and I were enjoying dinner at a local Irish bar and listening to an awesome and authentic Irish band. I glanced over at the tables around us where 5 people, all about our age, sat with their heads in their laps, staring down at small cellphone screens.

Good God, what has this world come to that a bustling bar with live music isn’t enough to entertain us?” I pondered over a pint of Smithwick’s.

There is one place where I can find sanctuary from my cellphone addiction, and that is on the water. The peacefulness drives me to turn off the phone and unplug from the 24/7 world around me. Listening to waves gently lapping against a hull as a boat gently rocks from side to side and watching the sun paint the sky with shades of orange and red, is better than any email or YouTube video. It’s a place where I can get lost in a book or in my own meandering mind.

It was on one such peaceful night, capped off with cheap red wine and some board game that Karen forced on me that I glanced over at the boats around us where, couples sat quietly talking, untethered from the digital world, proving what I have long suspected: The cure for nomophobia is saltwater.


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

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

3 Lessons About Boating From a Puppy

The smell of varnish wafted through the crisp-spring air as my brush glided back and forth on the boom. The boat wasn’t scheduled to launch for another two days, so this 5th coat of varnish was being tended to at a leisurely pace. As I worked, my mind wandered to the tasks of the day, which included a morning of brightwork and cleaning then an afternoon of puppy sitting for my parents.

Clark Boat Yard co-owner Gary Clark paced on the ground below me. I threw him a short wave and a “hey, how’s it going?”

“Good, are you ready to go in?” he asked.

I glanced out to Narragansett Bay and the dozen or so masts already gently rocking on their moorings. I had been eager to join them all week. “Uh well, yeah, I mean,” I stammered as I wondered what I would do with the dog all day on the boat.

“Great. I’ll get the trailer now.”

And just like that, my day of leisure was over. Boating season was about to begin, whether I was ready or not.

In just minutes, the Clark brothers, Gary and Jim had the Karen Marie — and her half varnished boom — loaded up onto a trailer, then lined up on tracks heading towards the water. Protocol is usually that one of the brothers would take the boat out to the mooring but my dad and I had watched enough.

We climbed aboard the boat and backed her out into the harbor. My mooring ball was not yet ready so we had to do a few laps around the marina while it was being finished. The delay didn’t bother me, the sun was shining and a stiff salty breeze blew through my hair. My fingers wrapped around the wheel and the boat reacted to every twist and turn of my hand. It was a great feeling.

A launch later took my dad back to shore and brought Karen and the puppy, Zoe, out to the boat. I went back to varnishing the boom but between Karen bringing supplies up and down the companionway, the rocking of the boat, a waterfront view and an excited dog wagging her tail at a mile a minute, my zen-like focus had been replaced with a Chinese fire drill in rapid succession. It was thanks to all these factors (because it couldn’t be my fault, right?) that a glob of Epifanes high-gloss varnish dripped down the side of the boom and landed squarely … on Zoe’s ear.

My hopes of one day sailing alongside a dog of my own dissipated quicker than you can say “get the paint thinner!” Zoe didn’t seem to mind that her ear was now getting much stiffer than it should be; in fact she relished the attention she was getting as Karen and I scrubbed her ear with the thinner.

Some time later, I emerged from cleaning the cabin to find Zoe sitting in the cockpit watching a small fleet of sailboats go by. “Now there is a dog that has her priorities straight,” I thought as I sat down for a minute. That minute would turn into almost an hour of nothing but watching boats pass by and listening to radio checks on the VHF.

photo 2

Zoe taught me three valuable lessons during our weekend together: treat every opportunity as an exciting new adventure, sometimes the only schedule worth keeping are your meal times and getting a little varnish on your head should never ruin a beautiful day of boat watching.

Bring on the 2014 season.


Over the Top

My tiptoes screaming uncle, my arm stretched as high as it would possibly go but still I was forced to watch helplessly as my halyard (the line that lifts and lowers the sails) passed beyond my reach climbing up and over the pulley at the top of my mast. In a rush to clean up my boat and head off to an appointment, I neglected to tie down the most paramount line aboard and now the only way to reattach the line would be to climb to the top of the mast. I don’t have a fear of heights but I do have a fear of masts, having had to dodge falling pieces of crumbling mast earlier in my career.

I typically like to do the work on my boat myself but I thought this was a task best handled by professionals. I told my yard owner what had happened, hoping he would send someone out to reattach it for me.

“No problem, we’ll send someone right out to help you.”

Half an hour later, and late for my appointment a man by the name of Benjamin (not Ben, Benjamin) strolled onto the boat. After a brief introduction he handed me a mess of plastic pieces and lines.

“Why don’t you just go ahead and get yourself strapped in there,” said Benjamin as he handed me a harness of sorts. My stomach sank to my feet.

Any question as to who was going to be climbing the mast was eliminated. I fumbled with the harness as Benjamin looked out at the harbor. His nonchalant attitude could be misconstrued as bored and uninterested with the task at hand. With virtually no assistance in strapping myself into harness, I finally had something tied around me that looked respectable.

“How’s this look?” I asked, trying to get my new friend to focus.

“Yeah, that seems about right.”

Not really the reassuring inspection I was hoping for.

I would later learn (which seems to be how I do most of my learning) that most seasoned sailors climb their mast once or twice every season.  I, of course, was not seasoned. And, if I’m being honest, the thought of being hauled up a 35-foot mast by my other halyard that spent the last few months in the trunk of my car, by a man I met minutes before scared the hell out of me. My mind raced with questions, “is the line strong enough to hold me, is the mast strong enough to hold me, is this guy strong enough to hold me and why the hell did I order a three-egg breakfast sandwich this morning?!”

I tried to sound calm as I asked, “What do you want me to do, just let you pull me up the mast?”

“Well is would be a lot easier for me if you just climbed it as fast as you can,” he replied.

A former collegiate wrestler, I have done my fair share of rope climbing in practice. I never thought I’d be saying this, but I was now thankful for that experience.

With a few deep breaths I jumped onto the mast and climbed it as fast as I could. I winced as my Sperrys scuffed the varnish of my mast but I didn’t slow down. I did a pull-up on my spreaders and continued my ascent to the top all with the halyard around my shoulder. The challenging part came when I finally reached the top. At 35-feet high the boat wakes that were a minor inconvenience on deck were now a big problem. I swayed back and forth like a giant pendulum. Looking down I saw a miniature version of Karen, snapping pictures of my turmoil from her phone. If I get killed, at least it will be well documented I thought.

ImageUmm, are you sure this harness is on right?!


Half a second later…Image

ImageNote (/not) the (right) techniqueImage

Ugh, crap, I looked down. 

I sat atop the mast for what seemed like an hour trying to untangle the line on my shoulder and feed it through the pulley at the masthead. I’m sure the fact that I kept one hand around the mast with a death-grip didn’t help my efficiency.

I would eventually reattach the halyard and be returned to my deck. Sweating and tense, I could have taken a page from the pope’s playbook and kissed the ground.

Later that day a neighboring sailor would approach me and say, “I saw you climb the mast before. I’ve never in my life seen anyone climb a mast like that and so quickly,” she said. “I took a video of it and was showing it to my friends.” I then discovered a nautical law of nature: when a boater is in over his head, there will be a crowd of people there to watch. Know what you’re doing however and there won’t be any onlookers. Go ahead, test it out, the next time you dock perfectly despite strong winds and current there won’t be a soul around to see it.

After some time, and a couple rum drinks, the tension in my back and neck would dissipate and my hands would stop shaking. I had survived a sailing rite of passage and I was proud of that…even if there is a YouTube video out there called “monkey-man climbs mast.”

A Father’s Day Shout Out

Cold, cramped and bored out of my mind, those are the feelings that return to me when I think back to my old man’s first lesson on how to change the oil of the family’s 33-foot Egg Harbor. It was early on a weekend morning (It was probably 8 o’clock but on a Saturday when you’re 10 years old that might as well be midnight) and I was paying more attention to my fatiguing flashlight-holding arm than how to change an oil filter. It would take two hands to hold the light by the time we left to go home for lunch. I wish I could say that during my high-school years I really started absorbing the nautical knowledge my dad tried passing on to me, but that would be lying. Nope, at 17, I was wise in the ways of the world. I had my first job at a local boat yard, and though I was only bottom painting boats with a pair of probably illegal immigrants, in my teenage mind, I was an industry expert. It was not until recently, after purchasing what would become the Karen Marie and staring her diesel heart that I began to think to myself, “maybe I should have spent more time listening to those mechanical messages and less time wondering if we were going to get bagels for lunch.” Luckily for me, my old man is for a lack or better word, a persistent parent. Sitting in my first boat’s cabin with me the other weekend he showed me how to tighten the engines belt, replace the fuel filters and swap out the water pump impeller. No flashlight was needed for these projects but if I think about it, I guess they never were. I’m thankful for the lessons and advice, nautical and otherwise that he has given me recently. (As I write this I got an email from him that reads, “you might want to grease your mast track before it goes up, I’d hate to see Karen have to climb the mast to do it later.”) It scares me to think about what the Karen Marie would look like today without his help. Thanks Dad, happy father’s day. Image

Mistakes made and lessons learned

Warm and sunny with a gentle yet salty breeze blowing off the bay, it was a perfect weekend by New England standards. Sailors took to the water like a swarm of locusts. While Schooners and Lasers were out swapping wakes, I was impatiently prepping my mast hardware for installation. While I was physically in a dark shed counting screws and straightening my bent bronze track my mind was on a mooring in Jamestown.

It was this restlessness that prompted me to put a 10th coat of varnish on an already finished mast. There were a couple sags and few pesky drips that called to me.  I hastily answered that call. Leaving the garage door open, the sun shining with a slight breeze, along with some loud country music made this chore a near pleasant experience. Other shop workers came and went providing a steady stream of company and conversation.

The next day I strolled up to the shop to reorganize my mast hardware and take a minute to step back and admire my finished mast…or so I thought. The runs in my mast varnish previously were weekend joggers compared to the Kenyan marathoners that now danced across the shiny Spruce. To make matters worse a fine layer of dust and dirt had settled into the mast.

It was as disheartening and frustrating a moment that I’ve had since my original mast broke apart, this time, I had no one to blame but myself. My ego got in my way and I didn’t do the prep work necessary to varnish a mast, let alone adhere the final coat. It was a mistake I would not make twice.

Closing the garage door, I hosed down the floor, re-sanded the mast and even changed my dust-covered clothes. In a much more monk-like atmosphere, I was able to put a smooth-as-glass final layer of varnish on the mast, one that I felt proud of when I took a step back.

There is no place for an oversized ego when it comes to boating and boat restoration. I hope keeping that in mind will help me join my boating brethren soon.

Ruined Plans

Before my mast broke apart before my very eyes, I had a plan in mind as to how the day would go. After an afternoon of sailing, my girlfriend and I would run to shore, pick up a few last minute items then spend our first night aboard. We’d watch the sunset sink over the harbor with a glass of champagne…yup, it was going to be perfect.

Alas, Murphy and his law were aboard with us that day. After tying up to our designated mooring we hopped in the marina launch and went ashore. Leaving my damaged vessel, the operator informed me that the last shuttle back out to her would be at six o’clock sharp. Looking at my watch and knowing I had to drive to 40 minutes each way to bring the original owner home, I knew I would be cutting it close to make it back in time for the last launch. Very close.

Driving shall we say, efficiently, I left Scott in at his home and returned to my apartment. I would have to gather everything we needed for our night aboard and be back on the road in 10 minutes. Frantically, I threw peanut butter pretzels, a pillow, champagne and a toothbrush onto a blanket, wrapped it up took off for the door. Watching me pack “the essentials” must have terrified Karen, but she played along.

With the sun sinking fast, I drove, again efficiently, over the Pell Bridge to Jamestown, glancing from the clock to the sinking sun the entire way. In spite of everything that had gone wrong during the day, I was determined to make it.

Skidding into the marina, I got out of my car and ran down to the launch with boat cushions under each arm and a pretzel filled blanket in my hand, while Karen trailed behind, I’m sure contemplating the logic of spending the night in a confined space with someone who was using a blanket for luggage.

The launch operator looked at me like I was a lunatic, which was fair enough and took us out to the boat. Before dropping us off, the operator asked, “you know this is the last shuttle right? Are you sure you want to stay out here all night?”

The sun was just about to set. I looked back at him, “I was staying.”

Still all wound up, I went down bellow to find a bottle opener for the champagne. As I fumbled around the drawers looking for it, the last rays of light penetrated the starboard port lights.

“Forget the champagne!”

I ran topside dragging Karen with me and we sat down, just in time… to have completely missed the sunset.

I wish I could say I took a deep breath, and said something insightful about how despite everything it was still great to be out on the water. No such luck.

I drowned my sorrows in stale peanut butter-filled pretzels, wondering what the hell had I gotten myself into.

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!)