A rocky start to my summer season

September 2008

By Dodge Morgan

I am accustomed to making mistakes on boats but mostly small and unthreatening ones. I have never lost a boat even though I have owned a few worth losing such as those made up of inflated rubber tubes. However, this summer boating season clearly started out on the x#@%-up side of the ledger.

I picked up the 54-foot sloop Wings of Time from her Rhode Island boat resort and rehab facility, noted for extraordinary accounting acumen even more than expert boat-service work, because it was time for the trip home to Maine. Even though I could sense she wanted her home mooring just as much as did her crew, her behavior did not cooperate. For the first 10 hours, I bitched about all the gear that did not work, and for the last 10 hours I celebrated the very few pieces of gear that actually did work.

Then an event as we were entering Buzzards Bay provided me with a week’s worth of nightmares. We came frighteningly close to running right over a small outboard boat with a couple guys fishing from it. I will not disclose who was supposed to be on watch when that close collision occurred (not me), but simply state that, in all my sailing, this is the closest I have ever come to a true disaster. A life or two could have been extinguished.

I have often discounted the dangers of being run down at sea. On my solo, nonstop circumnavigation, the only time I even sighted ships that could have given me a passport to hell was when I was passing through the North Atlantic shipping lanes. In the Southern Ocean, the only traffic I encountered was whales. I have heard sailors describe the risks of being run down, but I have never heard someone describe such experience that they had personally endured. Those two fellows out fishing on a bright, sunny day did come very close to such a story, however.

There was light wind all the way, but it dropped to none just as our transmission failed. It did not take long drifting backwards to energize a rescue plan. I called Merle Hallett. I did so on the cell phone after learning that the VHF radio did not transmit and the hand-held radios had flat batteries. So we covered the final 11 miles of our delivery trip on the end of a line from Endurance, Merle’s picture-perfect cruising boat. With its tuglike visage and elegant recreational fitting-out features, Endurance is really constructed around an elaborate 1939 power plant that drives the gorgeous vessel at six knots maneuvering, six knots cruising, six knots flank, and six knots towing. I can say she does present a delightful, as well as comforting, stern view.

My next x#@%-up was with my old pal Eagle, the Peterson schooner now 82 years old and mine for 40 of those. (She is one of the very few places where I lower the average age of the assembled.) Suffice it to say that I bounced the old gal off a Quahog Bay ledge I knew was there. Her only damage is some paint off the bottom of her iron keel ballast, but my ego was battered.

Then Mary Beth and I nicely executed a classically dumb event with the little launch Alice P. Hoyt. She is a pedigreed Malcolm Brewer and Murray Peterson 16-footer powered by a single-cylinder diesel engine. On our simple mooring pickup process after a bay beer cruise, we got the pendant alright, but with Alice’s shaft and wheel rather than with a boat hook. The resulting wrap would redefine the phrase “tight and permanent”.

I am not sure if I have exhausted my screw-ups for the season or if I have taken them on as a permanent state of my life.

Dodge Morgan lives on Snow Island, Maine.