My cousin Stevie

Debbie and Stevie. Photo courtesy Paul Brown

October/November 2022

By Paul Brown

Stevie is a sailor. Before I met him, his mother-in-law, my aunt, related an anecdote about a visit to the U.K. Several folks had gone out for a sail with Stevie and returned with a tale about weather so bad that they had to “shorten sail.” Stevie’s mother had reportedly observed, with some indignation, “A Vines never shortens sail.” At that point, as a non-sailor, I had not met Stevie but pictured a tall, mustached Brit, wearing a commodore’s cap and epaulets on his shoulders.

Stevie Vines isn’t really my cousin, but he is married to my first cousin, Deborah (Quimby) Vines. His family name was Schneider, but his grandfather changed it to Vines during the unpleasantness with Germany a few years ago. Stevie is a Brit, and Debbie met Stevie while she was in training to become a midwife. In the U.K., it is called the “Practice of Midwifery,” with a short “I” as in “midwifery.”

When my uncle (Stevie’s father-in-law) passed away (they lived in Cape Breton), Sheila and I drove up in our rather old camper, a large box on a tiny Toyota pickup. It was late in the afternoon, and after making the usual pleasantries upon arrival, we repaired to the camper for a “cool-down” gin-and-tonic. We had barely settled in when I noted a slight, gray-haired figure was walking around the side of the barn where we had parked. No commodore’s cap, no epaulettes, not even a mustache. I opened the door and inquired, “Would you like a Boodles and tonic?”

“Wot’s a Boodles?”

I held up the bottle. “British gin.”

His face brightened. “Why yes, I would have a Boodles and tonic.”

We had met Stevie.

Others of the party appeared, and soon the camper was full of cousins and friends of cousins, enjoying a Boodles and tonic, and perhaps some other beverage that was on hand. We were later referred to as the “People in the Portable Pub” by another cousin-in-law, a retired Methodist pastor.

Stevie had a doctorate in chemical engineering, worked for a company in Wales, and had a sailboat, Raffles (a “Robber Class” sloop) on a slip a half-mile from their home, on The River Cleddau – which is really a bay opening out into the Irish Sea. He had been raised in a sailing family, continued into adulthood, and competed in racing regattas. He had sailed to Fastnet Rock, but not in a race, and sailed the Irish Sea from Wales to Scotland and back. So, when I began sailing in my fifties, I was in awe of him. He worked his best British seamanship in tweaking the sails to the most perfect possible trim. I was entranced by the way he would eye luff and leach from several angles, then tug on a line here or there. And indeed, he might have eked out a fraction of a knot faster.

On their occasional trips to the U.S., Stevie and Debbie joined us sailing the coast of Maine. My boat, a Beneteau 32 “Evasion” ketch, was not a racing boat, and it had a pilothouse which, although I hate to admit it, made it a motorsailer. Well, at least it was very comfortable in bad weather.

As part of the end-of-season agenda, he and Debbie crewed from Casco Bay to Rye Harbor for haul out. This is usually a two-day trip with an overnight at Biddeford Pool or Cape Porpoise Harbor. This time we pulled into a little bowl formed in part by Stage and Little Stage Islands around the corner from Cape Porpoise. We foraged for mussels, caught a few mackerel, and had a sumptuous supper moistened by some adult beverage. It probably was beer. The morning was a lovely new day, somewhat unusual for the coast of Maine, to complete the voyage.

The Beneteau has a strong fifty-horsepower Perkins diesel. But it wouldn’t start to move us out of there. No matter, it’s a sailboat. No matter, Stevie and Debbie are very competent crew. With Debbie at the tiller and Stevie ready at the sheets, I went forward, raised the main, and let it luff, stepped forward to the anchor rode with the intent to haul it in – hand-over-hand on the line until I could pull the anchor from the muck. The anchor came free, and I busied myself with hauling it aboard while Stevie cleated the mainsheet. The breeze caught the main, and we headed towards the shore. “Paul, the furling is stuck.” Stevie was hauling on the jib sheet, but the jib was not unfurling. The boat would not steer on the main alone. I cleated the anchor line, the anchor still not fully on deck, and turned to the furled jib.

A corollary to Murphy’s Law had asserted itself. This is Brown’s Law of Cords, applying especially to lines on sailboats: “If it can snag, it will snag.” The furling line had snagged under a stanchion. I freed it, yanked on the clew, and the jib unfurled with a bang, but all of this had taken several seconds. “Debbie, we’re running out of water.” Stevie was watching the depth sounder, and the sounder warning set at eight feet beeped.

Stevie had winched the jib sheet and finally controlled the jib, Debbie heaved on the tiller, and we did a quick one-hundred-eighty turn into the correct direction. On our way south, we noted some sinister boats were congregating around Walker’s Point, and Debbie wondered why those fishing boats were so “clean.” We guessed that the president was enjoying a weekend off. Meanwhile, Stevie used his engineering talents in cleaning the battery cables so that on arriving at Rye Harbor, we motored our way to the dock with no trouble.

Sheila met us there and took Debbie and Stevie back to our home, about 25 miles away. I stayed on the boat to be ready for haul out in the morning. I awoke at about dawn with a pain in my right abdomen. The pain got steadily worse, and I was in agony when Sheila, Debbie, and Stevie arrived. I had never suffered a kidney stone – but this was it.

Independent Boat haulers, personified by Rick and Carl, an expert at the art of launching and hauling all manner of boats, were informed that I was going to the hospital. Debbie and Stevie would be their wards in this effort. Although experienced sailors, they had never attempted to power a 32-foot vessel onto a submerged trailer. It looks easier than it is.

Rick, driving the tractor, backs the trailer down the ramp into the water until it is adequately submerged. “How much” is a matter of judgment depending on the slope, depth, boat, wind, and tide. The boat, with Stevie at the helm, is powered off the dock, somehow lines up with the front of the trailer where stands Carl. Powering carefully toward Carl, the boat bumps gently (we hope) onto cushioned pads. Debbie, at the bow rail, tosses a bowline to Carl. At that point, the sailors exhaled a sigh of relief, and while the season had come to an end, at least our last sail was an eventful one.

Paul Brown is a “farm kid” who never expected to be a “yachtsman.” He sailed out of Dolphin Marina in South Harpswell, Maine. Previous voyages include Brownscow from the Chesapeake Bay to eastern Nova Scotia and crewing everywhere from the Florida Keys to the Dry Tortugas. He currently lives in the house where he was raised, on a dirt road in Raymond, N.H.