After selling our share in the Irwin 27 back to David and Joy, we went looking for a sailboat to call our own. We were ready to move up to a real cruiser, and had a bad case of 3-foot-itis. We found a 1979 33 foot Hunter sloop, and she was perfect.
This is not our boat, but she’s the same size model, color, about the only difference was that our dodger was black rather than white.
At the time, I was working for C-SPAN, and Sea Span sounded like a great name for a sailboat. She never saw the open ocean, but we explored many nooks and crannies of the Chesapeake Bay.
She was the first boat we had with a diesel engine, and I became a fair diesel mechanic, at least for basic things, tinkering with the 3 cylinder Yanmar that powered her when the wind was light.
Sea Span was a beautiful cruising boat. There was a “V” berth forward where Jenni usually slept. A quarter berth under the cockpit was big enough for us to share, an enclosed head, and a galley. She had actual instruments. Not just a compass, but a relative wind pointer, anemometer, and depth sounder. She had a roller-furling genoa, which meant no more going forward to change head sails. And best of all … a big destroyer wheel and auto pilot. the previous owner had done a lot of single handing the boat. I don’t recall exactly why he was selling her, but we fell in love the first time we saw her. By the time the sea trial was done, we knew we’d found our boat.
This was the boat on which I started to learn to make things the way I wanted them. It started with replacing the alcohol stove with a gimbaled propane stove … including gas plumbing and a propane locker for the tank. I re-wired a couple of different things, installed a radio, though fortunately the antenna was already at the mast head. Over the course of owning her, we had to replace the genoa sheets, and learned to tune standing rigging. I tinkered with the engine, scraped and painted the bottom, and eventually had to completely re-coat the bottom because we came down with a bad case of blisters. We couldn’t afford to have the hull peeled, so I got a grinder and took off the old bottom sealer and rolled on new. The hull wasn’t quite as fair when I was done as when I started, but since I wasn’t planning to race her, it was OK. Overall, not really knowing what I was doing … I did OK.
We made wonderful friends at the marina in Deale where we decided to berth her. Dan and Kathy on Zum Wohl, TJ and Donna on 3/4 Time, and, of course, Pete and Margaret Lowenstein aboard Stormy Monday. We’d all go sail together, sometimes rafting up in a creek on the Eastern Shore, sharing a bottle of wine, exploring a little town … and the getting there was always a major part of the fun. Power boats are nice … and boating with a 150 hp Yamaha pushing you along is great … but I love raising the sails, falling off the wind, shutting off the engine, and feeling the power of the wind. As the sails fill and the boat picks up a little heel … you feel such a connection with every sailor that’s gone before you.
I could fill pages with stories about sailing the Chesapeake Bay aboard Sea Span … and Creola, which is the next installment in this series. But for now, let me relate just two.
Before we moved to the marina in Deale, we were still in the marina where we’d bought the boat, also on the western Maryland shore. We’d been out for a day sail, which we did a lot. The wind was hard out of the west, and we were coming in at flat low tide. As we came across a shoal that we’d crossed many times before, but the wind had blown a lot of water out of the bay. And as we came across the shoal, we went aground. They say there are two kinds of sailors: those who have been aground and those who have lied about it. Our keel came in contact with the mud, and I was not going to be driving her off any time soon. I stopped the engine, and we began to wait.
Sea Span only drew about 4 1/2 feet of water, so that water was pretty thin. The good news was, the tide was coming in, so we floated in about an hour. I kicked back and had a beverage. A couple of power boats went by and offered to tow us off, but we just waited it out … with a story to tell when we got back to the dock.
Then, there was the overnight trip over to the Eastern Shore just to spend the night on the boat. It was one of the rare times that we didn’t sail with our “Springfield Yacht Club” buds, but we felt like we’d be fine. We were gaining experience and confidence. As usual, we were humbled.
We anchored, spent a wonderful evening in a sheltered cove, there were several other boats around. A perfect summer night on the bay. I set the anchor light, and we went to bed.
When we got up in the morning, I made coffee on the stove, we had a little breakfast, and made ready to get underway to go home. I hit the starter button.
The batteries were completely dead. I hadn’t been smart enough to just run the anchor light from one battery. I wasn’t a confident enough sailor to try to sail us off the anchorage and home. Of course, it’s difficult to call AAA in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay. Even if we could … it was before the days of cell phones on every hip and purse, and with a dead battery, we had a dead radio.
Now, I did have the forethought to bring a hand-held radio, and we managed to raise one of the other boats in the anchorage. In the classic tradition of helping others on the water, we had a captain pull one of the batteries out of his boat, bring it over on his dingy, we pulled one of my batteries and installed his … and started the engine.
We thanked him profusely … an got underway. It was the only time we ever ran the engine all the way home, even while sailing. I just put the engine in neutral, and let it run to charge the battery. I didn’t any confidence that the engine would start again when I needed to get around Long Bar to get back to the slip. And I never again forgot to keep one battery in reserve to start the engine the next day.
Sea Span was a great boat, if a little dated. We loved her, and only sold her when we thought we’d be moving back to Ohio. Becky was looking at a job there, and we were confident enough that she’d get it that we went ahead and put the boat on the market. Shortly after we found a buyer and made a deal … the job fell through. I often wonder if she’d have gotten that job if we’d still be married. Probably, but that’s another post.
So, another day of crying when I sold a boat. But leaving Sea Span behind led to Creola … which, as I said before, is part IV of this series.