For the new boatowner, the butterflies are never far away

February, 2000

By Mike Rutstein
For Points East

Whenever I see kids wearing the “N0 Fear” caps and T-shirts that became popular a year or two back, I remind myself to get one of those caps for myself, to wear whenever I’m aboard my Pearson 303, Treasure.

It’s a bit of an inside joke, because I’ll freely admit it – I have known fear. But I’m not talking about a Force 10 gale on an Atlantic crossing, a hidden coral head in the South Pacific, or even a Gulf Stream crossing. No. I’m not that kind of sailor. I became a boatowner for the first time two years ago, and that’s when I discovered that fear is all the stuff I don’t know.

Fear, to be more specific, is launching a strange boat for the first time. Fear is going down in a Travelift in a used boat full of hoses, clamps, and thru-hulls with which I have barely a nodding acquaintance. I have a photo of my boat being lowered into Portland Harbor, my brother-in-law at the wheel, grinning proudly. Me? I’m down below – trying to keep two eyes on five through-hulls and wondering where the handle for the manual bilge pump is.

Fear is making a delivery cruise in unfamiliar waters – in early April – with only the vaguest notion of what I am doing, of what goes where, of how the boat’s systems work. I had bought the boat over the winter when it was out of the water, and although it had impressed the boat suveyor, there was still a lot of white space on the chart.

I’d never seen the mast before, never heard the engine run, never operated the head or bilge pumps, never handled the rigging, never deployed the anchor. And here we were heading out of Portland in 30-degree weather, the only pleasure boat in sight, and in fact the only one we’d see during the 100-mile cruise to Treasure’s new homeport in Massachusetts.

To keep a long story short, we made it – minus a five-gallon bucket and a coffee mug – and Treasure and I got to know each other a whole lot better before the summer was through. I took a diesel course during the winter, and the following spring I handled almost all the launching and re-commissioning work myself.

But every time I leave the dock I still experience fear. On a sunny day with a 10-knot breeze, it might be only be a vague fear of embarrassing myself while departing from my tricky slip. On a breezy day with powerful gusts, however, fear is never far from my mind.

I’ve never seen an anemometer above 33, except at anchor; never had someone fall overboard, never had an anchor drag at night, never had a rigging failure. I’ve never had to deal with any of a thousand crises a sailboat is exposed to. I know that eventually one or all of these things will happen to me – probably at the worst possible time — and I’m afraid that I won’t know how to deal with it. I’m afraid that my failure could lead to the loss of the boat, serious injury, or even loss of life.

I do not enjoy being afraid. But I do enjoy sailing; I do enjoy the sensation of mastering the elements, conquering my own fear, and taking Treasure somewhere that she and I have never been. I’m afraid, but I’m challenging myself. I’m afraid, but I’m learning.

I’m afraid, but I’m having the time of my life.

Mike Rutstein, publisher of sports periodicals Boston Baseball and Eagle Action, lives in Essex, Mass. He sails his Pearson 303, Treasure, out of Beverly.