Capt. Bumblebee and the stadium blanket

Guest perspective/Ralph Pears

Over the course of 30 years, during which time I frequently sailed in company with the ill-fated Capt. Bumblebee, so-named by my children because of his fondness for a yellow and black rugby shirt, he was always ready to come to the aid of anyone in need. If you were looking for a spare part, chances are, Capt. B would have one. Afloat or ashore, he was always ready to lend a helping hand. Evidence of his helpfulness – and haplessness – is well illustrated by the following adventure, which involved an errant stadium blanket.

At the time, Capt. Bumblebee’s brother and sister-in-law lived on Pemaquid Peninsula, in Maine’s Damariscotta region. The couple’s daughter – Capt. Bumblebee’s niece – attended college in Portland, and while visiting there, Capt. B happened to chance upon her. During their meeting, the subject of sailing came up. After learning that his niece had never been sailing, Capt. B immediately offered to take her out for a sail. She said she’d be visiting her parents at home in a few weeks, and suggested that they tag along. Accordingly, arrangements were made to get together several weeks later to spend a day sailing on Muscongus Bay. Both Capt. B’s girlfriend and his sister-in-law – non-sailors at the time – would later share the details of this day. Capt. Bumblebee, however, never once mentioned the outing during all our years of friendship.

Capt. B and his girlfriend sailed his boat to Round Pond on a lovely October weekend. They arrived late Saturday afternoon, secured a mooring for the boat, and spent an enjoyable evening ashore with the rest of his family. The niece and her parents agreed to meet them at the dock the following morning for the much-awaited sailing adventure.

The five of them set off mid-morning into Muscongus Sound and headed south toward New Harbor and Pemaquid under sunny skies. It was a lovely fall day, with a blustery breeze, and all were thoroughly enjoying the outing. However, as they approached New Harbor Sunken Ledges, the skies had darkened somewhat, and it was apparent that the weather was deteriorating. As the clouds set in and the breeze freshened, Capt. B decided that it was time to begin making their way back to Round Pond, and hopefully escape any incoming rain.

Capt. B turned back onto a northerly course and trimmed his sails for a beat back up the sound. The breeze was gusting, the boat was heeling, and the sky was increasingly turning gray, with heavy clouds. Although a bit nervous about the boat’s angle of heel and its windward romp, the passengers were reassured by Capt. B that there was nothing to fear. Even Bumblebee’s girlfriend was a little nervous, in spite of the fact that she’d sailed with the good Captain for about a year. However, during her time aboard the boat, she’d never really done any of the sailing herself, content to leave the sail trim and helmsmanship to the Captain.

As they were approaching the entrance to Muscongus Sound with Capt. B at the helm, a sudden gust of wind caught a stadium blanket that had been resting on his sister-in-law’s lap. The blanket was still contained in its zippered plastic cover, so when it hit the water, it floated jauntily in the boat’s wake. The Captain, his girlfriend and his sister-in-law all exclaimed with surprise and disappointment at the loss of the blanket, which had a college logo embroidered on it. Capt. Bumblebee immediately said, “Nothing to worry about – I’ll get it!”

He promptly turned the boat’s helm over to his girlfriend, and before anyone could protest, Capt. B jumped into the inflatable dinghy being towed behind the boat, and cast off. In short order, he started the dinghy’s outboard motor and was zipping off to rescue the errant stadium blanket. Far astern of the sailboat, he snatched the blanket, waving it over his head to assure all that he had indeed salvaged the wayward parcel.

Capt. Bumblebee stowed the blanket and turned the dinghy back toward the fleeing sailboat. He gunned the engine, cranking the outboard’s throttle to its limit. The dinghy leaped to the challenge and surged forward, flinging spray from its blunt bows and bounding over the building waves. Unfortunately, the dinghy’s speed couldn’t match that of the sailboat, which had a bone in its teeth and was romping toward the minefield of ledges that mark the southern limits of Muscongus Sound.

Capt. Bumblebee waved, shouted and did his best to convey to the crew aboard the boat that he wanted them to slow the boat down. Alas, the sailboat surged onward and was clearly drawing away from the Captain ever so slowly.

Meanwhile, the four novice sailors aboard had no idea how to control the boat, much less stop its headlong progress toward the ledges. All watched in horror at the seas breaking on the fast-approaching ledges, as Capt. B’s girlfriend hung onto the ship’s wheel for dear life, while her companions crouched in fear in the cockpit.

One can well imagine the screaming aboard the vessel as everyone yelled at one another, the boat hurtling toward an impending collision. There were rocks ahead of them, rocks to starboard, and more to port. The only apparent route to any salvation was an about-face – heading back in the direction from which they’d come.

All the while, Capt. B was madly chasing the sailboat, yelling unheard instructions over the wind, and praying that somehow they could all avoid disaster. As the boat drew within a few hundred yards of the first ledges, Bumblebee’s girlfriend acted in desperation, and managed to turn the wheel hard to port. The sailboat came about, and gradually fell off onto a port tack, with the headsail aback. Frantic, she did her best to retrace their incoming wake. The turn downwind calmed some of the violent motion of the boat, and brought some relief to the terrified crew as the boat fell off.

The change in course and poorly drawing sails eventually slowed the boat enough so that Capt. B could catch up. Back aboard, he did his best to calm his badly frightened passengers before lowering and furling the sails and starting the boat’s engine. A very shaken crew motored back to Round Pond, where the Captain’s family took their leave and vowed that they’d never again set foot aboard a sailboat . . . at least not with Captain Bumblebee at the helm! Capt. B and his girlfriend motored back to their homeport in silence. Although their relationship survived the incident, the experience led to a significant decline in their sailing experiences as a couple, and, moving forward, Capt. Bumblebee was destined to cruise singlehanded.

Ralph Buchanan Pears is a retired lobbyist who, with his wife Kathryn, cruises his restored 1979 Cheoy Lee Clipper 36 ketch, Blessed, from their homeport of Sebasco Estates, Maine. Fingers crossed, there will be more “Capt. Bumblebee” stories in upcoming issues of Points East.