Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Your Tax Dollars at Work

Having taken the big decision so early in our trip, we now had lots of time on our hands. So like good ‘uns we hightailed it for Cape Cod and a visit with Mike’s Aunt Vickie and Uncle Hugh. Mike and Hugh sailed together for years out of Marion, Massachusetts, where Hugh’s Vindö 50, Mashantam, is moored. 

Even as an octogenarian, Hugh’s love of sailing hasn’t diminished a bit. He remains active as an instructor in his local chapter of US Power Squadron and sails whenever he can get crew. When we arrived he was busy preparing for a weeklong cruise of Buzzards Bay and Block Island sound and he suggested that a daysail on Tuesday would be beneficial as a preparatory shakedown. We immediately agreed. 

I’ve been using a nifty iPhone app called PocketGrib for some years and its proven to be a usefully accurate forecaster of weather on sea and land. Thus, while Monday night's radio forecast kept changing its mind about the amount of rain we could expect and when it would end, the gribs stuck to their schedule. By 08:30 the rains ended and the clouds began to lift slowly as we made our way down to the harbor. With winds out of the northwest at 5-10 knots it wasn’t going to be a strenuous day, but enough to get us moving.  

Hugh familiarized Carol with boat operations as I put a reef in the main for no other reason than it hadn’t been done this year. This was, after all, a shakedown. Dropping the mooring bridle we made our way gently out of the bay and headed towards Cleveland Ledge Light. 

Away in the distance we could see a helicopter hovering near a boat, its bright white searchlight flashing occasionally in our direction. Inching closer it became clearer that the Coast Guard was conducting some kind of exercise with a support vessel that looked like it was towing something like a ladder or rescue litter. The object was being dropped in the water, picked up and then passed back to the support vessel. Rinse and repeat. Conditions for training were pretty much optimal. 

Given that these maneuvers were being conducted directly along our course, with the helicopter hovering close enough to the water that it was nearly engulfed in spray from its rotor wash, Hugh decided to hail the crew and find out what was going on. After all we didn’t want to disrupt things or cause a GoPro moment by entangling Mashantam’s 50’ mast with $17 million dollars of flying ambulance.

Picking up the handset, Hugh dialed in channel 24, the Coast Guard’s preferred hailing channel for public correspondence. 

“Coast Guard, hello Coast Guard, hello over Buzzard’s Bay, this is Mashantam, sailboat approaching you from the northwest. I just want to know how far away from you I ought to stay.”

——— Pause (four beats) — ——

The radio crackled on and an impatient New England accent spat out: “Why do you need to know that? The fucking thing is in the fucking air!”  

Really? We collectively caught our breaths at his response; it was both unbusinesslike and downright rude. Our tax dollars at work have, it appears, new instructions on dealing with the citizenry. 

“Ahem, roger that. Got the message. Mashantam out.”, Hugh replied. He then maintained course and we watched as the exercise moved northwards and out of our path. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

What would Buckeroo do?

We're not going all the way Down East, but we are heading east to Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts with a goal of viewing boats. The stronger likelihood is we'll spend hours in sweltering traffic jams, but if you want to buy a boat there's an order of magnitude more of 'em along the mid-Atlantic seaboard than there are out here in God's country. Good news? And there is good news. The good news is that we've narrowed our list down to 43 possible alternatives ranging in price from $95,000 to $389,000. Given that any of these boats are likely to 'get us there' it's remarkable that there's an almost 4X cost spread from top to bottom. The differences aren't all build quality and can only, I guess, be ascribed to successful marketing.

After all the reading, and the short-listing, and the opinionated reassurances gleaned from legions of sailing forum dwellers (who have, frankly, no experience with your particular boat) our decision will be some mystical reckoning of the surveyor's report, refit costs, negotiated price, and the sort of energy given off by the boat herself. Because, after all, boats speak to you - and you as a sailor should listen. To those with dreams of sailing deep waters with the big fish, boats content with living at the dock will be distant and aloof. The livelier types will call to you. Eagerly pulling at their painters so they can head off to the ends of the earth. As a buyer you have to feel and read these energies and distinguish between caution and fear, competence and desire, youth and experience. And whether, despite all the right vibes, the poor vessel is really just too damn old for the trip. (Cue metaphor police.)

At its heart sailing is a kinetic, omni-dimensional balance of natural forces and spiritual exploration. Your boat is an active partner to whom you have to open your heart and your mind so you can make the best decision you can within your constraints. As Buckeroo Banzai might have said, don't embarrass us - your lives depend on it.