Preserving the cruising mate

July 2007

By Dodge Morgan

The ravages of time can cause troublesome consequences for the sailor and his mate. The pair has sailed together over so many years that individual roles on the boat have been refined with precision and become unquestioned habit. When circumstances challenge the established routine, it can become a crisis of threat to the one activity, aside from sex, that has bonded the pair.

My good friend Angus has recently been faced with this sad occurrence, but has developed a number of clever coping mechanisms, most for his mate, Agnes. When it became clear that Agnes was struggling with the Bean tote-bags used to move gear back aboard in the spring, Angus found smaller bags for her. When Agnes began having trouble raising the gaff-headed mainsail, Angus rigged a small handy billy at the throat halyard’s belaying pin.

Angus, in one of his looking-ahead moods, advised her that the same handy billy could be used for assisting her in hauling the old yachtsman’s anchor. When Agnes complained about the dangers and complications of the alcohol cook stove, Angus bought her a gas-fired shop torch and two fuel bottles.

To make it easier for Agnes to don her footwear, since her belly paunch and arthritis had made it difficult for her to bend over, Angus gave her a two-foot-long shoehorn fashioned from a backyard stick and, for late-night emergencies, a pair of heel-less slip-ons.

As Agnes’s sight acuity diminished, thus affecting her navigating and chart-reading chores, Angus shared with her the well-known technique of looking at the subject through a very small hole in a sheet of paper held close to the best eye.

Angus assured Agnes that hearing loss is one of the key benefits of growing old, and that all those years he’d refused to hear what she was telling him was simply his preparing for the inevitable. The only times Angus allowed loud voices aboard his boat was for his chantey singing to serenade Agnes into moods of affection.

Angus reminded Agnes that their long-practiced technique of luffing up to ease the sheet loads for Agnes’s job of trimming sails would be ever-more helpful as her arm and hand strength continued to weaken. Angus pointed out that many of the techniques they had practiced over the years of cruising together have prepared them well for her loss of capabilities.

Given the turn of events she had caused by growing older, he noted to her that it was certainly a blessing he had always played the role of unqualified boat commander, which meant he had not weakened the team effort by himself growing older.

Angus and Agnes will be seen aboard Hoot Mon again this summer, and they will still be sail-power only. Angus had considered adding an outboard engine, but in a test at the Portland boat show, he dropped the idea when Agnes discovered she was unable to comfortably lift and carry the machine any distance.

Dodge Morgan views the world and its inhabitants from his home on Snow Island, Maine, and from the decks of his sailing vessels.