Friday, May 25, 2012

In the beginning...

I feel i must preface this before i get well and properly into the actual subject matter at hand, so get comfy, kids, top off your drinks or grab a cuppa.

For years, i've had what i call a life list. I had it well before the movie The Bucket List came out and at times it's been a written document. Other times only a mental one, perhaps making people think that i am indeed mental. So perhaps i am. But i'm happy in my world and don't harm anyone, and if my brain is burgeoning with dreams, that's my business. Unless, of course, i'm thinking of bringing the dream into reality when i might call upon a friend to help. Or husband to understand why this is vitally important, even if it's something we never really discussed.

I've done a fair amount on the list, and even now i'm still adding items, the most recent additions being hiking Offa's Dyke in Wales and knitting a gansey (guernsey or jersey), which is a particular type of sweater or jumper. Funny how English can change as we cross Ponds. One thing that stayed on the list for quite some time was learning to knit socks. Tick. Go to Alaska. Tick. Go to France. Tick. See the Grand Canyon. Tick (two ticks actually). Live with a cat or two. Tick (several ticks here, too).

An item can lie latent for many years on the list and be nearly forgotten until opportunity presents itself, when said item seems to wake up and draw my attention to it. And so it was with one latent item: a boat.

My brother got a rowboat for Christmas one year. A wooden one and a 3 hp motor so he could putter about the swamp and fish or go crabbing. I rode as a passenger, and found that i liked being in boats. I love being on the water. Even though i never knew a lot about it, i loved sailing. Himself and i have been canoeing. On one trip, we capsized three times, making us both understand that Himself really did not know how to be in the rudder position, even though he said he did, and we both thought it true. Still, no harm done, and we laughed a lot that day. Next trip out, i suggested kayaks, and we had fun with those. Enough fun that we both wanted one and now each of us does.

We've taken sailing trips as passengers and these are the sort of trips where passengers can help the crew. So, you can learn a bit, help a bit, but not really have to think as you stand and help as you are wont and the crew directs.

After moving back to the coast, i began to get a wild hair about having a boat of our own. It didn't have to be fancy or huge, but to have a little daysailer sounded very appealing. Giving it a bit more thought, i envisioned something a little bigger than a daysailer, something with a cuddy cabin would be nice, as we could do overnight trips or get out of the wet should we find ourselves suddenly in a downpour. We live near a large pond about 10 minutes down the road, and the sea is about 6 minutes away. I found myself looking at boats with more than a passing glance. Would this one suit our needs? Or that one? These thoughts weren't speaking very loudly in my head, mind you, or i most likely would have shut them off completely, but just a little nudge and, "So, what do you think about that?" sort of suggestion.

The dreamy part of me started to fantasize how this might work when the logical part of me came in. "No, no, no, no, no. This is insane. You really don't know anything about boats. Everyone you've ever known who's had one spends loads of time working on their boats. You are a mechancial retard."

So while the Dreamer was sulking in a corner, and Mrs. Logical was nodding vehemently that such thoughts are best kicked to the curb/kerb, i drove by a small boat on a trailer. It looked like the boat the Dreamer had seen. So, i pulled over to take a look. I wrote down all the information i could and realized i hadn't a clue to assess what i was looking at. Or if the asking price was too high or a bargain.

Himself was at our other house, and he knows next to nothing about boats, so i enlisted the help of two sailing friends. They gave me points to ponder, and the one volunteered to look at the boat with me. I was glad of it, as he's sailed for many years.  He was Sailing Friend Bob (SFB). He thought the asking price a tad too high, and the man we asked about it said he wasn't sure he could lower the price, as it was his father-in-law's boat. He had volunteered to set the boat and trailer at his place of business because his FIL noted that there would be a lot of drive-by traffic. We thanked him, and i did some online research. This boat was a 15' West Wight Potter. Good basic boat, lots of happy trailer sailors out there. I also found out that the West Wight Potter came in a 19' model and saw the extra 4 feet made a lot of difference in the cabin. Easier to have a porta-potty or miniscule galley.
(Conversions: 15'= ~4.6m; 19'= ~5.8m; 4'= 1.2m).

I knew there'd be costs involved after we got the boat. Probably oodles of gear we'd have to buy, and then what about a mooring? Would we want to trailer it all the time? My car can't tow anything, and if Himself were going to be at the other house for a bit, well, what then? It was in the autumn, and while Dreamer wanted me to get that boat, Mrs. Logical carried the day.

"Wait and see if it's there in the spring," she said, and before Dreamer could complain that Mrs. L. was simply stalling, Mrs. L. added, "Over winter, you can see what other bits you'd need to have to go sailing with this boat. You could maybe take a boating class to learn more. And besides, you know you really want a 19' boat."

Autumn leaves gave way to winter's chill and the 15' West Wight Potter left just before the first flakes fell. Perhaps to be stored away for the winter, and i'd see it in the spring. Meantime, i started making a list of what was needed on a boat. General things like flares, first aid kit, and pfds (personal flotation devices, or as we used to call them, life preservers). What would we need for singlehanding (i.e., just one person)? What would we need for two? About the time i felt overwhelmed, i saw our local adult continuing education program offered a boating class. This would help me see what all was involved and if it seemed like wayyyyy too much. Himself was not able to take the class as he was shuttling between our two domiciles so would miss some classes. I didn't have to shuttle, so i took the class. It was taught by the local Coast Guard Auxiliary, and it covered a lot of material. It was geared more to power boats. They have a sister sailing class, but no one to teach it in my burg. That saddened me, but there's a lot of general boating info that's helpful regardless of boat type, and i'm not sorry i took the class.

Rather than enervating, it encouraged me that i, yes I could do this.  I was the only one in class who didn't have a boat. Well, yes, technically i did as we owned kayaks, but not what some would say was a real boat. What i did find scary was hearing some of the people in the class mentioning they didn't know something that i thought very basic. These people already had boats and, i presumed, a lot more knowledge than i did. I presumed wrong. (If you take this class, you get a discount on boat insurance, so a few long-time boaters were there for the discount.)

Many states require that one takes this sort of boating class before one goes boating, but i live in one of those states that doesn't require it. If you have the money, you buy the boat and can sail or motor away instantly. Come to think of it, nobody ever asked me at a car dealership if i had a licence to drive. Same principle i guess. And, growing up on the coast, i could think of any number of youngsters who could row or control a boat from a very young age.

There was a test to take at the end of the course. I got 96/100, which pleased me very much. I had taken copious notes, read all the chapters, and have since considered getting the sailing text book if possible so i could read it for myself, as the motor boat one was so well written. Gave lots of pointers, for instance, on trailering boats and what to look for in trailers, checklists before you motor, and that sort of thing.

It was now very early spring, the days were growing longer, the last of the April snow showers had fallen, and i looked to see if the 15' West Wight Potter would reappear. It didn't. April turned to May, and it still didn't reappear, so someone must have bought it just before the snow came. I saw that the local Y had a huge boat sale each year in June as a fundraiser. Maybe there'd be something there. I got a list of the boats and thought SFB might be able to make suggestions. I told him i didn't feel comfortable trying to singlehand anything greater than 30' (~9m) and thought
mid-20's (7–8m) or less best. I explained that i wanted something we could singlehand, so if one of us wasn't here, the other didn't have to be stuck without a sailing partner. SFB had experienced this when his wife didn't always want to go sailing with him on their boat, and once he retired, he found many who wanted to go with him couldn't go because of work. He could and did singlehand his 41' (12.5m) ketch, although he found it more enjoyable when one or two others were on board. SFB looked over the list with me, noting which ones might be worthy of our consideration. He said that he'd be available the day of the auction, if i wanted him to accompany me and see the boats in person, but he wasn't going to be available for the preview because he'd be sailing on our friend's schooner. I appreciated any help whatsoever, and day of auction was better than naught. I could go to the preview and see if any boats spoke to me. If not then not.

The schooner of which i speak is one who takes passengers on multi-day sails during the summer, and this particular trip SFB mentioned was the first trip of its season. The schooner was built in 1886, before inboard motors were invented, so for engine power, a yawl boat is used at the schooner's stern. All cooked meals and hot water are furnished via woodstove. The cook is responsible for keeping the woodstove going, so Cookie's day starts around 4.30. The cook also has to get in the yawl when we're ready to get underway, and follow Cappy's commands. Cappy is at the helm. The mate and messmate don't have to start work until 6.30. When they do, the mate cleans the heads and swabs the deck. He also cleans off and squeegees the cabintops as meals are served up on deck. The messmate helps with getting breakfast ready, and making sure coffee, tea, and fruit is up on deck for passengers by 7.00. The messmate is responsible for making salads for lunch and dinner, helping with snack, and washing all the dishes. All crew help with the sails. The mate and messmate stay up in the bow to raise the anchor when Cappy is ready to get underway.

For several seasons as well as the summer before, SFB had often sailed on our friend's schooner as an unofficial crew member. He didn't have to get up as early as the "real" mate and messmate, nor was he expected to work as hard, but often did, and he was an immeasurable help in countless ways. I had offered both him and the cook refuge at my house, as some of the turnarounds were very short, and each lived about an hour from the schooner's home port; whereas i was about 10 minutes away. They appreciated but declined the offer, preferring instead to sleep in their own beds given the chance, although SFB did ask if he could do his laundry at my house on one tight turnaround. One of his family members had just been admitted to hospital. He put his clothes in the washer, and i shooed him out the door. I could hang them on the line when the load was done; he could run over to see his family, and when he came back to get on board, he could pick up his clothes. That same sailing season, on a week-long trip where SFB wasn't on board and i was, as a bunk was available, and i was asked to join at the last minute, the messmate took sick and had to leave a little before midway in the trip. Cappy asked me to take over as messmate, and i was glad to oblige, having held that position officially in the latter part of the 2000 sailing season. The cook and i had known each other from before and always got along well, so we had loads of fun in the galley. On the last day of the trip, Cookie slipped on the gunwale as she got into the yawl. The mate and Cappy helped her climb back up on the schooner, and while some passengers helped with making her comfortable, i cleaned up the foredeck and coiled lines. A few of the other passengers wanting to help and not knowing how followed my lead and coiled lines, too. Cookie was obviously in pain and had wrenched her back. She had been preparing brunch as was usual for the last morning on a trip. As i applied some arnica cream to her backside, i mentioned to her that i knew stuff was still on the stove, what would i need to do.

She ran through the list ticking items off her fingers, and when she was done the list, i went down below into the galley, accepting the help of a few very worried passengers who looked frenzied. It gave them something to do that would be helpful, and i was as grateful for their help as they were in having something to do.

It all ended well. The messmate was at the dock to meet the boat, feeling very much better and able to return to her messmate duties, and Cookie made a complete recovery, although she was sore for the remaining few weeks of that sailing season.

And so here we were, at the start of another sailing season. Some of the boats were starting to arrive at the Y so i could gawk. None called my name, but they weren't all there. I was in the garden, after work and hoeing weeds, when my cell phone went off. Now i almost never have my cell phone turned on, as i work from home, but thought i might get a text. The previous summer, SFB or Cookie would text me sometimes, telling me where they were sailing or after Cookie's fall, how she was feeling. Cell phone coverage is spotty in many places on the water and altogether absent in others, so calling isn't always an option. Texting works better, although that also can be delayed a bit. SFB had called the landline the day before saying he might have a lead on a boat that would be perfect. Details later, as they were heading into a dead phone zone.

I took a break from hoeing and checked my phone. The text was from SFB. He asked about the sale at the Y and if i had seen anything yet. Yes, i texted back, but nothing had called my name. Would i be interested in this boat he had heard about? Yes.

Turns out this boat belongs to a sailing acquaintance of ours. She has been sailing on our friend's schooner any number of times and on other schooners in the fleet as well. Each schooner is its own business but many belong to this fleet. I had heard her speak about her boat but it was in the very past tense, so i was surprised that she still had one. She and SFB had several conversations about it. He thought it might be just the ticket. He would go with me to look at it after the trip. Was i interested? Yes, i texted. I was.

I was also perplexed. I didn't want to forgo the auction altogether because there might be something there that would fit our needs perfectly. I also had some misgivings about doing business with this acquaintance. For one thing, i wanted it to be a business transaction. A clean handoff. I wasn't so sure this would occur with her. I was concerned that if i bought her boat from her, she'd still think of it as her boat, or that if she'd want to cut me a break on the price, she'd feel that she could then just show up to go sailing when the mood struck her, and i didn't want to be beholden. Both Mrs. Logical and Dreamer agreed it could get messy very quickly. Now, there aren't many times in my life where Mrs. Logical and Dreamer have agreed, so when it occurs, Megan sits up and takes notice. If only i could see the acquaintance's boat before the auction. Then i could see for myself if it would be worth any potential emotional difficulty and if not, move on. I prayed for next steps guidance and got silence. That meant wait and see. sigh.

My phone beeped again. SFB texted they were anchored in a nearby cove. Why didn't i go out to meet them, and discuss the boat with Acquaintance S (A.S.)?

Indeed, why didn't i? Himself was away, and my new boss was a micromanager's micromanager, so i wouldn't be able simply to take the next day off, as she wanted at least two week's notice for any fun days. Far cry from previous boss who told me to go ahead and have fun the year before when an empty bunk and last-minute invite on the schooner hadn't been a problem, as i didn't have any looming deadlines that week.  But, i was done work for the day and had thought i'd garden afterwards. I figured i had two hours of daylight left. I could take my kayak in my car and drive to somewhere along the water's edge that flanked the cove and paddle out. I grabbed my backpack, loaded it with an extra layer of clothes, a few water bottles, a change of shoes (i planned on wearing boots while kayaking), my penny whistle and fife, as a delightful artist who also plays pennywhistle was aboard the schooner, and my headlamp, in case i stayed late.

I enquired at one hotel along the cove if i could park my car there and explained my purpose. The young woman was very nice, agreed that i could, but an easier place to put in was on the other side of the cove. She told me where to park, as there was a sandy layby, and it was easier navigating my way to the water's edge via a path that had a small hill at a gentler slope than what their place offered.

I thanked her and drove on, finding it exactly as described. I saw the schooner and paddled out. Everyone except Cook and Cappy were on deck, as 4.30 comes early for Cook, and Cappy was nursing a cold. The Artist, S.A., mate, and SFB recognized me. There was a bit more than an hour of daylight left. S.A. talked about her boat. She was drinking rum, i think. SFB handed me a glass of whisky. I had forgotten to pack my Scotch in my knapsack, which i prefer to whisky, but the stuff he gave me wasn't bad at all. I hadn't eaten supper, as my plan was to weed a bit in the garden then eat. They had already eaten, and there weren't many leftovers, but i had a few pieces of yummy, woodstove baked bread and a slice of chocolate cake. Even so, the whisky went to my head pretty quickly. SFB sat between me and S.A. like a broker, and i knew this was The Boat. Mrs. Logical and Dreamer both agreed on that, even though both had some foreboding about emotional fallout.

On my second large whisky, we agreed that i'd come look at the boat. SFB would come along to see if it looked like a good fit. S.A. insisted that we needed to top off our drinks and toast that. We discussed money briefly. I told her i had planned on a certain dollar amount i was prepared to spend at the auction, feeling certain that i'd need to spend more besides on getting the boat ready for the water, and that would be true whether it was a boat at auction or her boat. She asked the certain dollar amount. I told her, and she thought that was well within the boat's value and probably more than what her boat was worth in market terms. Two other times, she had nearly sold it, but both had fallen through. Third time might be a charm?

By this time, it was pretty dark. The Artist and i played our whistles and chatted a bit. I decided i needed to give myself at least an hour to allow sobriety to return so i could paddle back to my car safely and drive home legally. SFB suggested i stay the night on the schooner. I protested weakly, saying i had my headlamp and would be all right. He said that there was an empty cabin available, and the mate could wake me in the morning if i was fearful of oversleeping. I knew the cats would be fine without me for an evening, and i wasn't looking forward to lugging my kayak through a narrow path and uphill with only a headlamp's light in the dark to the way where my car was parked.

So, i stayed the night, and although i am NOT a morning person, i awake early when sleeping on a boat. It's light by 4.15 in June here, and not only was i awake, i had stripped the bunk of its sheets, put them in the pillowcase, folded the blankets neatly, repacked my backpack, and visited the head, all by 5.00. The mate was already up, cleaning the heads and swabbing the deck. I thanked him yet declined his invitation that i stay for breakfast, but would he be so kind as to help me lower my kayak, as they had stored it in one of the boats resting in the davits? (They have a rowboat and small sailboat on either side for guest and crew use. My kayak was stowed inside the rowboat.)

SFB had just come up on deck as the mate and i were getting my kayak in the water. He hugged me, and told me he thought this boat might be a perfect fit. I told him i was still going to go to the auction. They had a few trailers listed, and one might be good for this boat of S.A.'s as she mentioned she had no trailer for it. He agreed he'd look at the trailers on the day of the auction, and he'd text later to confirm the time. The mate and i hugged, and i climbed down the ladder to my kayak. Both the mate and SFB watched and waved as i waved with my paddle then turned towards shore.

I paddled back on still water and was glad i had spent the night aboard the schooner. Navigating the shore path uphill to the road with the kayak in early morning light was challenging enough. With headlamp and perhaps a bit of the tipsies it could have been akin to Cookie's slipping on the gunwale.

I made it home, put away my kayak, fed the kitties, showered, and breakfasted all by 6.30. Had a teleconference at 8.30 and looked forward to that Saturday, which was the auction.

To be continued...


  1. Goodness, all so complex. On buying cars, I've never been asked if I had a licence either!!! I'd never thought about it.

  2. I think that's why i put off writing about it, Cro. It seems entangled in so many other things.