Cruise Log 2
Read somewhere that the human brain is 80% water. Since I've heard since childhood that the earth's surface is similarly aquatic, it has always seemed to me to follow that we humans belong on or near the water. You can count in, too, the effect of my having been born in Kansas in the worst year of the dust-bowl drought. Voila! I was destined to be a sailor. These deep thoughts, however, have run up against the watery reality of this second big attempted sailing adventure. Water as image, as signifier and trope, as thirst-quencher, as cleanser? Yes, absolutely. Water as one's total environment, as atmosphere, firmament, and surround, especially in its most agitated states? No, thanks. In short, we are rethinking our excellent aquatic adventure, and will try to find some windows of fair weather between the fall storms to limp our little ship back to Maine--probably within the next two weeks.
This kind of thing depends on luck--at least if one seeks a pleasureable justification. We are waiting out the second huge storm within a week (3 inches rain predicted for tonight), and our boat has been plagued by one mechanical breakdown after another. If you own a boat, you know that this is standard, of course. But these breakdowns have entailed no little trauma and dread, since they occurred in circumstances with no easy options: the last happened day before yesterday several miles out at sea off the east end of the Cape Cod Canal, where, during a gale of 25-30 knots of wind blowing from a direction that made sailing impossible, or at least very difficult, the pulley on our raw-water pump, which cools the engine, simply fell off into the bilge, and once again, after a similar adventure in the Plymouth channel (reported earlier), I found myself upended in the engine compartment, fishing for the lost pulley, the belt, and trying to reassemble all while being thrown around the boat in the howling wind and chop, F standing watch on deck to see whether we were in any further danger. I got it all fixed in half an hour, and we resumed our bashing westward into the Canal and out the other side and into port at Onset, MA, one of the weirdest towns on this coast, and quite memorable from our last visit here ten years ago. I spend yesterday morning fixing the thing properly and testing it under load, but somehow the fight has gone out of me, and after much soul-searching, we're deciding to head back north again (of course, into the increasing frequency of north winds!)
It became clear that we couldn't move the boat fast enough, given our conservative style of sailing, to avoid the fall storms, and get the boat far enough south to beat winter. We are a full month behind our sailing schedule of 1992, in fact, and that makes a lot of difference. In fact these matters are only the tip of the iceberg. We have changed in ten years. The big cruise south in 1992 was a welcome, nature-besotted break from 25 years of academia, commuting, politics, and paper-grading, while our immediate past now has been a good deal more balanced--we spend lots of time on the boat in Maine, and had lived by the water for the past two years, so leaving Maine's culture, restaurants, islands, air, friends, civility, and our newly completed home just to see DIFFERENT water, then go ashore to one little resort town after another with NO NY Times, no decent movies, and populations seemingly composed of drunken fishermen and old Hell's Angels guys, tattooed weight-lifters, and hip-hop teens, and much touted restaurants that serve the same greasy fried seafood, whatever you order, and however you order it---it all started to seem a little .... much.
Then there's the grunge/scuz factor. Life on a boat is, well, dirty, unless you can afford a million-dollar yacht with generators and laundries and a small staff to keep all ship-shape. God knows we try--constant cleaning, constant putting away, constant changes of clothes (which means constant searches for laundromats), but your dinghy is your car when you are traveling by boat, and the salt spray gets to everything both directions. On days like the last of the gale days, the sea spray was coming over the bow of the boat, hitting the dodger with the force of a shotgun, and drenching me in the steering station, covering every cockpit cushion and every inch of the deck with salt a sixteenth of an inch thick, and coating the dinghy similarly, so the trip ashore is an excellent way to saturate your jeans with saltwater, and of course saltwater NEVER dries, whatever you do, and then the towels all get damp, and...you get the idea. So you go into port to take a mooring or to anchor, and then have the choice of showering in the head of your boat (after three days this uses all the boat's store of water, so that's to be avoided when possible), OR going into marina bathrooms and showers, most of which make camping seem relatively pristine. (Our showers the evening of the big engine drama were in total darkness, since someone had flipped the wrong switch before closing the marina office for the evening.)
I won't continue this pathetic lament. In fact, we have had some absolutely wonderful times on the trip so far: last evening I grilled a huge London Broil roast on the stern rail, and F made avocado and tomato salad and asparagus and red potatoes, and we had a great wine, listening to Billie Holiday CDs, and watching the fast-moving clouds come in to signal today's coming storms, riding under a salmon-colored sunset and purple haze over the Onset Harbor Island. Today we had lunch in a BULGARIAN restaurant: excellent. There was a nice conversation at the marina with a trio (guy in his 30s with his 20s girlfriend and her college friend) who've sailed from Chicago out the St. Lawrence, over to Nova Scotia, and who are headed for Belize. The boat --except for problems noted--has actually behaved very well: no leaks in the vee berth this trip. In fact no leaks (amazed). She has handled some very rough weather with incredible ease. It's just us humans who're being beaten up. I have two head wounds (bumped on the companionway, and many cuts on both hands from winches, pinches, and the panicked use of hand tools).
So this will be my 2nd and, doubtless, LAST letter about this particular adventure.
We plan to limp back north during the next couple weeks, reclaim our condo with its comforts, rejoice in the civilized difference of our home base in Maine from any other town we've found on the whole eastern seaboard, and start plotting a different sort of adventure--who knows what? Perhaps a west coast car trip, since F has never been west of Colorado. Almost certainly some time during dead of winter in Europe or Costa Rica or somewhere. It will probably involve boats, but will not be entirely ON a boat. And there will be places to be dry now and then.
For now, we'll wait out tonight's storm ashore, watch the season premiere of what the media seem to think is the cultural event of the new millenium (season premiere of The Sopranos), drink a Rodney Strong chardonnay with Italian takeout in our inn by the sea, and go back aboard Dalliance tomorrow, probably in an absolute deluge...
AND, next summer we will keep our boat in its usual slip in its usual Maine marina, and will plan to daysail a great deal, have many dinners and parties aboard, and sail her here and there to the islands in the Casco and Penobscot Bays, and choose our sailing days with care, rather than trying to both live aboard the boat and get her 2000 miles south in a fixed time period. If you come to Maine, or if you live in Maine, you're always welcome to come by, sit with us in the cockpit, have a drink, and then go back to your nice, safe, dry home, as shall we!
Thanks for the fun notes and responses that we got from many of you, and now I'll go back to individual correspondance.
Have a great autumn,
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