The machine rules

Midwinter 2010

By Dodge Morgan

Trawler Osprey is a boat that evokes a subtle power of persuasion but with a significant impact on a sailor’s mental state and cruising frame of reference. To begin with, she has the amenities of a high-rise flat in Manhattan or a luxury house trailer in Milwaukee – refrigerator-freezer, kitchen stove with multiple burners and oven, two toilets, stand up and move around shower stall, constant hot water, queen bed, six and a half feet of headroom everywhere. A sailor’s perspective is overwhelmed.

Even the language one uses and thinks in changes. Left and right replace port and starboard, upstairs and downstairs for below and topsides. Places on the boat become back and front rather than fore and aft, and she has a living room, bedroom, porch and piazza.

While under way, there is just one concern: Will the engine continue to run and the propeller keep turning when asked. These are the same considerations when driving an automobile. And just in case, one belongs to SeaTow rather than AAA for peace of mind.

Cruising down the Intracoastal Waterway is measured in statute miles not nautical miles and counts roughly a thousand of them from Norfolk, Va., to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. This travel dimension screws up all the learned nautical calculations and adds dramatically to the change in a sailor’s standard attitudes. Ten statute miles equals 8.68 nautical miles. Eight knots of speed is 9.2 miles per hour. I refused to change knots to mph on the GPS fearing I would never get it back to where it belongs, so I ended up being early everywhere.

I have never been afloat in such thin water as in Chesapeake Bay and the ICW. The deepest the depth meter has registered for the past month and a half is 40 feet, just three times, and the average depth of all soundings is close to eight feet. These are numbers that scare the bejesus out of a sailor from Maine. One needs to check the sounder maybe twice in the more normal sailing trip to more tropical temperatures, which is Harpswell to Tortola, but cruising the ICW you fasten on the depth numbers like you would on a cardio monitor while lying on a hospital gurney.

Actually, the ICW is a delightful tour, plying through rivers and canals and shallow inland bays, passing by much American history and visiting many lovely southern towns. And you get to see a lot since the trawler makes sailing speeds while comfortably under way, eight knots average. Most of the scenery is wild and undeveloped, highly populated by birds and dolphins, but during one 10-mile stretch in North Carolina, the shores were crowded with huge condos – so many there were probably enough beds to sleep every person in the State of Maine.

The anchorages and marinas are not crowded this year, and reports are that the mega yachts are especially missing from the trek south. Most of those we have met have the Waterway trip south as an annual event, destinations Florida and the Bahamas. I can place my cruise in an age-related perspective by admitting my last ICW trip was in 1963. But I am codger-proofed by mate Mary Beth, who can see day markers, read charts, hear radio calls and cook awesome meals.

Dodge joined the chevrons of Casco Bay geese as a bird of passage as he made his way south under power, bound for warmer climes.