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.