The misadventures of Capt. Bumblebee

Guest perspective/Ralph Pears

Whenever sailors get together and have a few drinks, their talk invariably turns to the adventures they’ve had aboard boats. Sometimes these stories involve dangerous conditions and overcoming difficult situations. Other times they focus on the reminiscences of beautiful journeys, or the camaraderie that develops between sailors once safely in port. Occasionally their stories turn to the misadventures of other sailors they know.

Capt. Bumblebee was a frequent cruising companion over a period of more than 30 years. Although he was a kind, generous and intelligent man, he was perhaps the single-most hapless and accident-prone sailor I ever met. I frequently observed his missteps first-hand, and on a number of occasions helped him extract himself from situations where he was faced with the possible loss of his boat. He never failed to be a source of unspoken amusement to those of us with whom he cruised, and we were always careful to spare him even more embarrassment by not recounting his accidents or imprudent decisions in his presence. However, when he was not among us, the stories of his antics amused his many friends for years. Hardly a sailing season passed without a new incident being added to the litany of his accidents. Sadly, Capt. Bumblebee has crossed the bar. It’s time to begin to celebrate and share some of his many humorous misadventures.

During his very first outing with me, he wore the same yellow and black rugby shirt for most of our two-week cruise, and thus was duly christened Capt. Bumblebee by my children and their friends. He was a true character who approached sailing, and life itself, with the gleefulness of a young child. It was perhaps this quality that made him a favorite with the children. He was not one who paid great attention to personal hygiene or his wardrobe, and it often appeared that he intended to wear out his wardrobe before he was forced to wash it. At night he would disappear into the cabin of his boat, only to appear the next morning bright and early, always wearing the same outfit he’d worn the day before. To the children he was like a giant gangly teddy bear who’d often entertain them with wild and fanciful stories.

During the three decades in which he cruised in company with me, Capt. Bumblebee, most often aboard his 35’ North Star sloop, managed to hit most of the prominent ledges and rocks anywhere we went. He left bottom paint on ledges from Casco Bay to Acadia, and most points in between.

One of his more amusing incidents occurred at the end of one sailing season when Capt. B was moving his boat from the New Meadows River, where we both maintained our summer moorings, to Kennebunkport, where I lived at the time and where my boat over-wintered. Capt. B decided he would keep his boat in Kennebunkport for the winter, and arranged dockage for it at one of the local resort hotels along the river. He thought it would be convenient because he frequently visited his girlfriend, who lived nearby, and he could check on the boat’s safety each weekend.

On the day of his departure, I cautioned Capt. B to be sure to time his arrival at Kennebunkport so it didn’t coincide with low water. At the time, there was a sand bar that stretched across the entrance to the Kenne-bunk River. Most boats had no problem clearing the sand bar at low tide, but Bumblebee’s boat drew well over six feet. Needless to say, the good Captain either ignored my advice, or delayed his departure sufficiently so as to arrive at the mouth of the river at low water. Not dead low, but nearly.

He arrived at about 5:30 p.m. The sun had set, and he found himself hard aground on the sand bar with the tide still running out. I received a phone call from Capt. B’s girlfriend, who told me he’d called her to say he was in trouble. He also wondered if I’d join her at the Kennebunkport breakwater to see if we could help and offer moral support. I readily agreed, and said I’d leave immediately. It took me about ten minutes to reach the breakwater below the majestic old Colony Hotel. As I climbed atop the jetty, there, in the middle of the channel, was Capt. B’s boat hard aground. The good Captain was on deck, hanging onto the mast for dear life, while it whipsawed back and forth with each swell that swept into the river from the open sea. The Kennebunk Fire Department’s rescue boat was standing by to assist, but because of the violent motion of the stranded sailboat, they couldn’t approach close enough to take him off.

About this time Capt. B’s girlfriend arrived, joining my wife and me atop the jetty to witness the spectacle. The image of him hanging onto the violently swaying mast, while brilliantly illuminated by the spotlights of a rescue boat, was sobering, to say the least. Yet, whenever we recalled the incident in subsequent years, the image of the good Captain looking like a rag doll in bright yellow oilskins, being shaken to and fro by some giant unseen hand, never failed to elicit howls of laughter.

The rescue boat finally managed to heave a towline to Capt. B, and with no small amount of difficulty, he was able to secure it. After what seemed like an interminable period of time, the firemen were able to pull his wallowing boat off the bar. Once free of the bar, the boat’s motion was calmed and his rescuers were able to take her in tow up the river. His winter berth was only a short distance upriver, and within a half-hour, the boat was safely tied to the dock, and an exhausted Capt. B could finally relax. Miraculously, the stranding did no apparent damage to the boat, and the only casualty was the bruising that Bumblebee’s ego took that night. Capt. B never again tried to enter the Kennebunk River at low water!

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. Be sure to look for more “Capt. Bumblebee” stories in upcoming issues of Points East.