Becoming a real sailor, again

July 2022

By Ali Wisch Fabre

I’m sure many of you have heard the expression, “You’re not a real sailor unless you’ve run aground.” If that saying is true, I’ve been a real sailor from my very first delivery. And in case you were wondering whether I’ve still “got it,” thanks to a not so gentle nudge from Boston Harbor over Memorial Day Weekend, you don’t have to worry. I do.

The first time it happened, I was helping deliver my boat from Annapolis to its new home in Boston. To say I was “green” would be an understatement — regarding my experience and color. Fifty percent of my time on that trip was spent contemplating my demise; the other fifty percent, I was too seasick to care.

The incident happened due to a missing marker, which led us to dig our keel so deep into the mud at the bottom of the Chesapeake that all we could do was wait hours for the tide to rise. Our sailboat quickly turned from a boat to a tourist attraction as onlookers from shore stopped and stared.

On that same voyage, we bumped ground off New Jersey. It only lasted a second, but the damage could have been far worse. To say that trip was a warm welcome to offshore sailing would be an understatement. Speaking of offshore sailing, if you’re planning a trip this summer, you’ll want to check out our “In the Galley” column on page 52, where Jean Kerr provides some excellent advice regarding provisioning. It only takes one time when you’re still three days from land, and all you have is a bag of Lay’s potato chips, some ramen noodles and no rum to recognize how important it is to provision well.

Fast forward almost a decade to last weekend. This time I wasn’t terrified or vomiting. I was at the helm. With a few exceptions, for most of my boating experience, there has always been at least one person aboard who was more seasoned than me. When I was in charge, I studied the charts like I was preparing to take a Bar exam and left no stone unturned in terms of preparation. I wasn’t going out unless the boat and I were one-hundred percent ready.

However, I was confident I knew what I was doing this time. The conditions were picture perfect, and our plan was just to leave the harbor, turn around, and come back—something I’ve done what feels like at least 100 times before. Still, I should have done the same thing I did in the past and made sure I knew the chart like the back of my hand. It became abundantly clear to me very quickly that I had relied on other people’s knowledge and Navionics enough that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did.

There is this little area in Boston Harbor known as the “lower middle.” If you’re familiar with it you’re already shaking your head. The lower middle is a flat rocky area right around the channel between Castle Island and the airport. When getting to this area you’re going to be approaching a split channel. Prepare for this. It was when I was trying to decide which way to go that I noticed the depth at ten feet and quickly descending. By the time I figured out what was going on, it was too late.

Luckily, we made the right decision to call SeaTow. With a lot of help and some funky maneuvering (my friend recalls Michael, the SeaTow captain and a good friend, yelling over, “This is going to be a little extreme,” and the boat basically breaching, we finally got out of a bad situation that could have been an extremely bad situation. Rather than give you more advice about what you should do if this were to happen to you, I will provide you with advice on what not to do, so that it doesn’t – absolutely, under no circumstances, cut the green can to the right of Castle Island or your boat and your ego will take a hit.