Cruisin’ with Old Guys

25 Oct

After spending the summer sailing up the East coast to Maine and generally having a ball of a time, I was expecting to be back in New Orleans in October, keeping my head down and trying to replenish a bank account drained by months of one-way traffic. Instead, I’m in Bermuda, still having a ball of a time. It’s a lucky year.

One of the things I really enjoyed about Maine was spending time with folks who used to be my friend’s parents, or my parent’s friends, and are now just friends. People like Bob Steneck, an old family friend who happens to be a leading authority on Maine lobsters and Caribbean reef ecosystems (Try searching Robert Steneck in Google Scholar and you get the idea). It so happens that Bob is taking a sabbatical from the University of Maine to sail his Pacific Seacraft 34 down to the Lesser Antilles and study reef ecosystems there. It also so happened that one of his crew, sailing their own boat, was dismasted just before the trip was set to begin, and had to bail out. So a few days after that dinner, where I mentioned in passing that I would come if anyone dropped out, I got a phone call. Bob offered to get me back to New Orleans once we reached the Antilles if I would help him get the boat down, and to boot I would get to tag along for a bit while he does reef research. How could I say no to that?
Alaria moored in Christmas Cove, ME
Bob and crew set out from Maine, but I joined them in Onset, MA, just south of the Cape Cod Canal. So now it’s me and the Three Old Guys:
Robert Steneck, storied marine biologist
Curtis Smith, amateur birder and ship’s technophile
Ansley Sawyer, Retired Fixer-of-Teeth, Active Fixer-of-Absolutely-Anything

Bear in mind this is a 34-foot boat we’re on, barely larger than my boat, if significantly more luxurious (as in, here we generate enough electricity to actually turn the fridge on, and all of the cushions have covers).  I got on board, we all said hi, and I threw my bag up into the already overflowing forepeak, and then we all kind of thought, ‘Huh, this will be interesting. I hope we get along’. Its the thought you always have, on joining a small sailboat and meeting your fellow sailors for the first time, but it is a bit more prominent when there’s a forty year age gap!

A pod of dolphins joined us south of Cape Cod (The Common Dolphin: Delphinus Delphis, according to our marine biologist)

We set out from Onset an hour after I arrived and worked our way down to Cuttyhunk, mostly under power. It was a good sail, no problems social or mechanical, but there was a bit of that nervous politeness which is common with strangers in close quarters. This is normal, a good sign even. Except that on a sailboat, with the attendant complete lack of personal space, this atmosphere can quickly become cloying, can make it impossible to relax. A certain degree of polite deference is probably a good idea at dinner with your sweetheart’s parents, or when meeting a long-estranged great aunt. Crammed into a boat with three other people, never more than twenty feet away from each other while eating, sleeping, dressing, and pooping, the notion of what is and isn’t polite goes through some changes.

Fortunately, it only took a half-bottle of rum to clear the air. During our sail we stayed focused on the work at hand but when we dropped anchor in Cuttyhunk we had a calm night and a chance to sit around and talk without distraction. So we had a few glasses and we stayed up late, rambling on, getting to know each other and relaxing the atmosphere. From there on out, it’s been totally comfortable, an ease that comes from both a growing friendship and a shared familiarity with sailing and living on small boats. I couldn’t hope to sail with a better crew.

The first leg of the trip, as recorded by Bob’s Delorme InReach

This article was syndicated from Safe At Harbour But Meant For The Sea: DIY Sailing with Paul Calder


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