The accidental, absurd and amusing

buckman-160901Humor is a rich, but all too rare a commodity among coasters, for we are a serious-minded bunch. Further, many amusing incidents have no witnesses, and a good bit of it is accidental. In 70-odd years of sailing, I have made just about every laughable gaffe there is to be made, and contributed not ungenerously to the state of sailing comedy.

Much seagoing humor is accidental, some absurd, and a little of it memorably imaginative. In the later category, we remember well the day we set out along the forested path that circles Maine’s Buckle Island. Well into the circuit, we came to a befuddled halt as we encountered a household door spanning the path. For a few moments, it suggested we might be coming upon a fantasy world, and we laughed heartily at the surprise and suggestion of it.

The lion’s share of ludicrousness under sail has emanated from our own, mostly minor, missteps, momentary shortfalls of skill, distractions, pilot error, overreaching, and inexperience. The latter was decidedly the case when my friend Cleve and I set out to discover the New England and Fundy coast in the ’70s aboard a train wreck of a $400, 18-foot faux cruiser.

One of our initial strategies, to compensate for our lack of seasoning, was to stay within swimming distance of shore when convenient. We had a lot of sailing hours under our belts, but were better swimmers than navigators. Any day that we arrived at our intended destination and could walk away from the sloop was a good one.

Cleve’s penchant for running the old, wooden Leight aground was the subject of much humorous banter, for he left his mark on rocks up and down the coast. Ledges were harmed at Winter Harbor in Penobscot Bay. He plowed furrows in the mud at Marion, Mass., and decisively located a four-foot shoal off Fisherman Island, in Maine.

His most memorable performance was the time he plowed her well and truly onto a shingle ledge east of Maine’s Naskeag Point. One moment we were tearing along at seven knots; the next we were high and dry, the student navigator with a contrite grin on his face. Holding the boom out to catch the wind, we rocked the boat from side to side and sailed backwards into deeper water. The only injury was a bit of paint scraped off the bottom – and the damage to our psyches, for we took ourselves rather seriously.

If there’d been a Guinness Record for grounding, Cleve would have been a contender. Thing was, the barebones cruisers’ ability to take ground and suffer no harm, other than a flake or two of paint scraped off, proved a vivid learning experience. Soon, we invented “Contact Cruising,” for which we received no Nobel, and were grounding out for the fun of it, landing on pint-sized beaches, or letting her dry in the mud. It was the anarchy of poverty that delighted us.

Few moments offer a greater wealth of entertainment than watching others anchoring or poaching moorings – you having long been settled, a glass of wine in hand and binoculars at the ready. Anchoring exposes the raw dynamics of couples under stress, territorial imperatives, communication challenges, and wildly disparate perceptions of time and space, all of which can add up to a grin or two. The mate holds that, if I had a scintilla of civility about me, I would offer sympathy, help and understanding instead of being snide. She’s right, of course, and I tried to reform, until I was momentarily stuck in the mud at Bunkers Harbor, and the skipper of a passing yawl offered, “Digging for clams?”

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