Blogging about boats has got me reminiscing about sailboats that have owned me. While I do love my center console fishing boat, at heart, I’m a sailor.
This is a Sailmaster 22. A boat just like this, except she had a white hull, was my first sailboat. I was in a partnership with one of my first wife’s co-workers. And my first long sail was a real adventure.
The boat had been in a yard over on the Eastern Shore for over a year. David, the co-worker, had put her there for some kind of cosmetic repair, but the person contracted to do the work dragged and dragged and dragged. When we expressed interest in owning half the boat, we made plans to liberate her from the yard.
David called ahead and had the boat put overboard, and we drove over to near St. Michaels, arriving early in the morning. Joining us on the trip was Jeff, another of David’s co-workers who claimed to have tons of sailing experience. It turned out not so much. And we should have paid attention to the “red sky in the morning” adage. The glowing red sunrise was a portent of a rough ride.
The little boat had no radio, no compass, and little in the way of safety gear. I was so naive at the time that I didn’t even know to ask. David had bought a compass, but we had no way to mount it before the trip. Still, with some food and water stowed below, we set off planning to make about half the trip to Cobb Island up the Potomac River where we planned to keep the boat. Increasing clouds and a fresh breeze from the northeast helped us make good way south down the Chesapeake Bay.
About an hour into the trip, the centerboard broke. It just started banging against the hull below the waterline, held only by the wire painter that raised and lowered the board. It was made of stainless steel, and 30 years of flexing had taken it’s toll. All we could do was pull the painter tight and sail on.
The boat did have a little motor, but David was a sailor, and he was going to sail. So sail we did.
We made better time than we expected, and the weather held through the day, but then, Jeff got sick. He’d been below using a match to try to whip Dacron lines, and the fumes started him to puking. We lost him for the rest of the trip. He stayed below, in the tiny cuddy cabin, complaining.
As night fell, the weather started to deteriorate as well. In the dark, we missed a mark and had no idea where we were. I finally said to David “Turn west. We’ll eventually come up on the other shore of the Bay, and we’ll figure it out from there”. So we took up a westerly heading, and soon a channel marker appeared in the gloom. Looking at the charts, we determined we’d come across some shoals that, at low tide, would have had us aground. We set a new course for the mouth of the Potomac, and the thunderstorm began.
I recall at one point being up on the foredeck, no life jacket, not clipped on, dark, 3 foot seas, in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay, a thunderstorm raging, and I was trying to strike the headsail. We had too much sail up, and needed to reef down the main and get the headsail off. Remember, I’d never been on a sailboat bigger than a 16 foot Hobie Cat in an Indiana Lake. I was way out of my league.
I got the headsail off, and David and I were both drenched … foul weather gear not withstanding. It was May, and it was cold, and we were wet.
David went below to try to warm up a bit, and I took the helm. I spent a very cold 3 hours at the helm, crouched against the cabin trunk trying to stay a little out of the wind, peering into the gloom for the flashing lights that would indicate we’d made the mouth of the River.
They finally appeared.
I woke David and took my turn below. At least out of the wind, it was a less uncomfortable. Jeff, however, was begging to be put ashore. We couldn’t accommodate him, of course, and he finally just gave up.
We managed to sail all the way up the Potomac to Cobb Island that night, Far faster than we expected. As morning broke, we got the doughnuts out and celebrated. There was no way to make hot coffee, but at least there’d be a little sunshine to warm us up a bit.
Now, this was before anybody had a cell phone clipped to their hip, so when we got to the Cobb Island Marina, we called and said “We’re here”. On a pay phone, as I recall. Becky and Joy (David’s girlfriend) were just as amazed as we were that we’d been able to make it all the way in just one night. We really expected to have to find a place near the mouth of the Potomac and finish the trip the following weekend. It was the final surprise in a weekend full of them.
It was the first of many adventures with the boat we re-christened “Great Escape”. I learned so much about sailing cruising back and forth on the Potomac River, and I eventually got to the point that I could, in the right wind, sail that boat into her slip. Of course, before I learned all that, I had her sideways in her slip trying to go sailing. But she was my first real boat, and I’d have her back in a heartbeat … wooden spars and all.
But that’s another post.