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Apr. 20, 2019
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Vinnie Mendes On the Water

A tugboat's odyssey

Several years ago, at my brother’s marina, Teddy, one of the regulars at the bar, came up with a scheme to outwit his three ex-wives. They were always after him for money and the instant he bought anything, (house/car/whatever), one of them would put a lien on it. 
 
He found an old wooden tugboat that had been converted into a yacht in the 1960s. She was 85 feet long and had plenty of room for living, recreation, parties etc. Teddy planned to put it into his mother’s name, moor it in the river in front of her house and live on it. It sure beat the dumpy apartment he was living in. Now Teddy ran a motorcycle shop and had a rudimentary knowledge of outboards, but knew very little about sailing, navigating and virtually nothing about big boats.
 
The only problem was the boat was located in Booth Bay Harbor, Maine, and this was November, and he had to get her down to New Jersey. Nothing insurmountable. Since there is very little to do around the marina in the winter time in NJ, my brother Hank and I decided to go on a road trip and sail her on down. Teddy also enlisted Andy, another of the regulars to come with us. I was not too confident in him as he tended to drink a bit too much but figured we could use an extra pair of hands. So, one cold November morning the four of us headed north in a rental car ready for a two-week adventure. Eight hours later, we turned in our rental car at the harbor and inspected the boat thoroughly. She was everything claimed, old but well maintained and seaworthy. 
 
We set sail the next morning and for a few days things went fairly smoothly. When we pulled into Gloucester, Mass, the harbor was very crowded. We asked a local fisherman where we could safely anchor. He directed us to a mooring and told us we could tie up there because it belonged to a “big” fishing trawler that would be out to sea for several days. We tied up and just to be on the safe side, set an anchor watch since the harbor was so crowded and the wind was picking up.
 
Andy had the four hour watch from eight to midnight. When I came to relieve him, I found him dozing in the pilothouse! While he was passed out, we had dragged the mooring half way across the harbor!
I woke my brother and we started the engine and between the two of us kept this 85-foot “battering ram” from drifting into any other boats or obstacles for the rest of the night. Of course, Teddy slept through it all! At the crack of dawn, we cast off the mooring and headed out of the harbor, hoping that the fellows who owned the “big” fishing trawler could find their mooring when they returned. (She was probably all of 40 feet long.)
 
Nothing remarkable occurred for the next two days until we got through the Cape Cod canal and entered Buzzard’s Bay. Now you must realize that this was long before GPS and other fancy navigational aids and we were navigating using a compass, binoculars and most important, a chart! The chart comes in what is called a “Chartkit” which is a soft cover book about twice the size of a loose-leaf binder. It has about 20 miles of coastline on each page with channel markers, water depths, and landmarks such as smokestacks, steeples etc. Basically, all the information you need to safely navigate from point A to point B.
 
We asked Teddy to give us the Chartkit for Buzzards Bay and South, and he said, “Oh, I didn’t get one. You guys sail around this area, so I figured you don’t need it.” Hank and I had a s*#t fit! We had sailed extensively around there with the help of a local chart! Especially since the sea bottom in New England is not the “forgiving” mud and sand we have in New Jersey. Up there you have big hard rocks! Fortunately I happened to have an Exxon road map of Rhode Island, which we used to navigate by “Braille” down to Newport, the closest place with a marine store where we could get a Chartkit!
 
Everything went smoothly after that and once we were safely tied up in our own marina, we went into the bar to celebrate. That very night, Teddy met a United Airline stewardess (yes, they preferred to be called “stewardesses” back then). She just “loved tugboats” and thought they were “so romantic” and “couldn’t wait to see it” and “couldn’t wait to go out on it” and “would love to live on one” ad nauseum!
Six weeks later they were married and as soon as that ring was on her finger, there was no way in the world she was going to set foot on that damp, smelly thing! 
 
The upshot was that Teddy moved into her condo and had to sell the boat. He made a deal with my brother to keep the tug at the marina and pay the slip fee from the proceeds once it was sold. Meanwhile we could use it whenever we pleased, just pay for the fuel! We had her for about three years and a bunch of good stories came out of her.
 
Oh, by the way, wife number four lasted about a year and then headed for greener pastures.
 
 
 
 
Mendes has been sailing all his life and on Lake Lanier for the past 25 years. His family owns a marina/bar/restaurant so he has plenty of real life experiences to draw from. His favorite line: “You can’t make this stuff up.”





March 2019 column

Things are not always what they seem

Back in the mid 1980s I was living in New Jersey and sailing as much as I could both on my own boat and as crew on a J-24 with my buddy Chris and an Ericson 39. Donald Trump had just opened his “Trump Marina Casino” in Atlantic City and was sponsoring the J-24 Nationals, a major sailboat race.

It was a good deal, with the entry fee including free launching of the boat, a slip right in front of the hotel plus as many crew rooms as we wanted with a great view of the marina and bay beyond. The only down side was you had to walk all the way through the casino floor the get to your room. This would be tempting for someone with a gambling addiction but we just enjoyed the gongs and flashing lights for free.
 
I was to help Chris trail his boat down to Atlantic City and serve as winch grinder and tactician in his crew of four hard partying sailors. We set out on the 75-mile drive down the Garden State Parkway in a two-vehicle caravan with him towing the boat in the lead and me following behind in my car.
 
About a half hour into the trip, it began to look like the boat was getting closer and closer to me. I signaled him to pull over and as I had suspected, the boat had shifted back about two feet on the trailer and was in danger of falling off entirely! He did not know that someone had borrowed his trailer and reset the jacks that support the boat without telling him. We were miles away from any crane that could lift the J-24 back where it belonged. So we tied a line between each winch and the front of the trailer, tightening them as much as possible and cranking up on the rear jacks as hard as we could. I followed at a distance as he drove a few miles down the road. We pulled over to check and as we had hoped, the boat had moved forward a couple of inches. We repeated the procedure every few miles until the boat was back where she belonged and then continued safely down to A/C.
 
The racing was uneventful until the third day when we had 8 to 10 knots of breeze and a light chop. The best way to sail in those conditions was to get all the available weight sitting down on the cabin sole right on top of the keel. We did this and were doing quite well when the skipper (viewing the mass of humanity) mentioned that he was worried that we might be over the weight limit. He made sure that each time we sailed past the Race Committee boat everyone was down below leaving only him on deck as he “sucked in his gut.” We finished in second place and knew we would be challenged, so as soon as we hit the dock everyone disappeared except for the skipper who hired a couple of kids to wash down the boat as he put her away. As it was, no one challenged us on weight and we actually got away with it!
 
The wife of one of the crew members was planning to come down that night and the crew member asked me where to take her for dinner. I knew the area quite well as I had worked for a company located nearby. There is no really nice place to eat in Atlantic City so we’d take all our important clients to a four-star restaurant a few miles out of town. He made a reservation and had quite an experience. Out on the water next day all he would talk about was the amazing time they’d had last night. He gushed about the delicious food and halfway through dinner “who came and sat at the table right next too theirs but Joan Rivers and her entire entourage! She was so witty and she was so glamorous and she was so funny and she was so beautiful and he really wanted to get her autograph but didn’t have the guts to ask her ... ,” etc. This went on all afternoon until we were all happy to get off the boat, so we didn’t have to hear any more of it.
 
A week later I was on the road. I checked into my motel room and flipped on the tube. A talk show host was interviewing a bunch of female impersonators. There were Cher and Barbara Streisand and Madonna and Joan Rivers! They were all doing a gig in Atlantic City! They explained that they were paid a ridiculous amount of money to cavort around on stage in drag. They had some funny stories about going out on the town in costume after the show and how people would react. I never told my friend.
 
Why shatter his illusion?


February 2019 column

Memories of ice boating (aka hard water sailing)

Ice boats have been around for about 200 years. No one knows the name of the Dutchman who first thought of putting a sail on a set of runners on a frozen canal in Holland, but it wasn’t much of a stretch up from ice skates. The sport came to this country with the Dutch settlement in New York and worked its way up the Hudson River as a method of moving cargo and passengers when the river was frozen.

As people gradually got more free time, the commercial aspect gave way to recreation, even President Franklin D. Roosevelt had an ice boat he used to sail up and down the Hudson, racing the railroad trains whose tracks ran parallel to the shore. It is still on display in the FDR Museum in Hyde Park, NY. The upstate cities such as Albany and Utica have switched their winter heating fuel from train delivered coal to tanker delivered oil, so, unfortunately for ice boaters, the Coast Guard breaks up the ice on the Hudson River.
 
One of the exciting things about sailing on ice is that there is very little resistance to forward motion. The faster you go into the wind, the faster the wind comes at you so the faster you go etc. Last time I checked the world speed record for an iceboat was 147 mph! 
 
In wintertime around my brother’s marina there was very little to do once all the boats have been hauled out and winterized. So many years ago a few friends and I pooled our spare change and bought an old wooden ice boat. She was built around 1900 and was 26 feet long, with a 30-foot mast and could seat several people. Her name was “Fleetwood.” We spent the late fall restoring her varnish and mending the sails and rigging. 
 
When the river finally froze, we assembled her and went out for the maiden voyage. We were running along nicely at about 20 mph with no sound but the hiss of the runners on the ice and the groaning of the old hemp ropes in the rigging. Suddenly, a puff of wind came along and instantly shredded the old cotton sail. Within a week we had recut an old Dacron sail that came off an “E” Scow and were back on the ice.
 
So once again as we silently sailed along, another puff came, and the old wooden mast exploded into a million toothpicks! I can’t tell you how exciting it is to be doing 20 mph across the ice trying to kill speed by going around in circles while leaving a trail of splinters and dragging the remnants of your mast and sail behind you! 
 
It’s fortunate to have a brother with a marina because he happened to have a 35-foot aluminum mast that had tangled with a bridge. We hacksawed the bent end off, spray painted it brown and while the paint was still wet, we dragged crumpled newspapers along to give it a wood grain look. We transferred the rigging and were good to go!
 
Another memorable incident happened several years later when a winter storm deposited six inches of snow on top of the ice. It was the week before the town was going to have their Winter Carnival with ice skating and hockey competitions, ice sculptures, and basically anything concerned with winter sports. The ice under the snow was 21 inches thick, more than enough to support the town’s snow plows. They cleared an area a mile wide and several miles long down the middle of the river and the carnival went ahead as scheduled. 
 
A few weeks later we had a thaw and although the ice was still plenty thick, there was about an eighth of an inch of water on top of it. We were cruising along at a good clip with me at the tiller and a nice stretch of clear ice in front of us when suddenly a couple of kids skated right out in our path. I quickly changed course to avoid hitting them and the starboard runner hit a frozen pile of snow left behind by the plows and stopped! I had been hanging onto the tiller with one hand and the handrail that ran down the center of the cockpit with the other. My hand was suddenly jerked free of the tiller, and the handrail I was gripping snapped as I went flying across the ice on my back for several hundred yards.

When I finally came to a stop, I was soaking wet and still clutching the piece of broken handrail! I got no sympathy from my friends who were all laughing their heads off, telling me how I looked flying across the ice leaving a rooster tail! All I could say was “You should have seen it from this side!”


January 2019 column

Sailing into the new year

I spent the early part of my life up north on the coast of New Jersey. There the sailers cherished the months between April, when with luck you could put your boat in the water, and October, when you had to haul her out. The winter was a dismal time when we thought about getting ready for the next sailing season. If we were lucky, the river would freeze over hard enough to get some ice boating in, but that only happened every other year.
 
When we moved down here about 25 years ago due to a job transfer, we had some friends who had moved from Cape Cod the year before, after selling their Island Packet 33. They told us that “There’s no sailing in Atlanta, there’s only one tiny little lake and there’s no wind and its wall to wall power boats.” They retired from sailing and got into “lawn maintenance” i.e. gardening, then moved up the line to head of the Homeowner’s Association!
 
I had reluctantly left my Tartan 36 One Ton racing sailboat at my brother’s marina and came down to check the area out. My wife’s older brother, an Atlanta native, showed me around Lake Lanier in January – I thought I had died and gone to Heaven! That afternoon, I arranged to have my Tartan hauled down here and then started looking for a place to live. (A guy must have his priorities!) It turns out that there are at least five sailing/yacht clubs on the lake with racing every weekend, and several evenings during the week in the summer. The first race is New Years Day and the last is the Saturday between Christmas and New Years.
 
My Tartan is a One Ton Ocean Racer designed to race long distances in the open ocean – with a crew of 13. (The “One Ton” refers to a mathematical formula taking into account the overall length, waterline length, beam, displacement and sail area yielding a final figure that comes out in tons. The number has little to do with what she actually weighs.) Before I acquired her, she had sailed on the SORC and competed twice in the Newport to Bermuda Race. Needless to say, she was not a perfect lake boat but we did campaign her for several years on Lake Lanier and won our share of trophies.
 
In recent years we have just sailed her for pleasure and now I crew for other people on their boats to add to my excitement. The one race I do compete in with my boat is the Barefoot Sailing Club’s New Years Day Poker Run. We’ve sailed in that event every year for the past 25 except twice when the wind speed was higher than the temperature and the Race Committee wisely canceled it.
 
The race itself is just a good excuse for a party, and I always have about 15 people aboard, both hardcore sailers and neophytes, and everyone brings eggnog, champagne, beer and of course rum along with more hors d’ouvres than you can possibly imagine. 
 
We sail around collecting cards that had been taped to the buoys to see who can get the highest poker hand and win top prize, which is usually a bottle of champagne. To discourage cheating, the cards are in sealed non-see thru envelopes, and color coded as well as numbered to show which buoy they came from.
 
Afterward at the awards party, the Race Committee opens the envelopes and the suspense adds to the excitement. Finally, the winner is declared and he or she has earned bragging rights for the remainder of the year.
 
In my mind, the best part of the day is starting the year off out on the water with a group of friends. 
Sailing on New Year’s Day sure beats the hell out of sitting on your rear end in front of the TV!


December 2018 column

The great parasail invasion

A parasail is a specially cut parachute that is designed to be towed behind a boat in the fashion of water skis, except instead of being on the surface of the water you’re at the end of a tow rope about 150 feet above it! Back in the early 1980s very few people had seen or even heard about a parasail until one was featured in a James Bond movie. (I may have mentioned that my brother owns a marina and bar on the Jersey Shore that is THE place to go in the summertime and during the winter attracts a faithful gang of locals somewhat similar to the old “Cheers.”) 
 
The gang at the marina saw the movie and we all thought it would be a cool toy to play with. My brother Hank and I were both single at the time, so we thought it would also be a way to attract members of the opposite sex.
 
We located an outfit in California that made parasails and ordered one. It seemed to take forever to arrive and when it finally got there it was the beginning of April and the water was still pretty cold. Since I was the only one with a wetsuit that fit me, I as chosen to take the first flight.
 
Now commercial parasail outfits have specially adapted boats that have a wide platform to stand on during takeoff and landing, and a winch to retrieve the flier (or sailer) at the end of the flight so they never get their feet wet. Since we didn’t have such a vessel, we had to take off from a beach facing directly into the wind, while three people hold the chute open, the tow boat accelerates, and you theoretically take off much like a water skier, except that you’re standing on the beach. At the end of the flight, the boat simply slows and you gently drift down into the water … theoretically.
 
We studied the instruction manual intently, then located a suitable launching site on a nearby island. On a bright Sunday afternoon we all went out to where the great event was going to take place. It took two trips in our 19-foot Boston Whaler since in addition to the launch crew we had about 15 spectators who wanted to be part of the action.
 
On the first attempt I was dragged across the beach stopping just short of the water. On the second try I was dragged into the water (and it WAS cold!) On the third attempt, the tow rope came taut, I took three steps and was airborne! WOW! I shot up into the sky like a rocket! What an ethereal experience! 
 
In total silence I could look down on everything for miles around. I was suspended under the parasail, snugly strapped into the harness, flying above the startled seagulls and I could clearly see the river bottom with the sand bars, seaweed and even an occasional sunken boat below me. Now for the tricky part: the happy landing. As the tow boat decelerated I came gently down into the water and they cast off the tow rope and circled around to pick me up.
 
We went back to the launch site and everyone thought I was a celebrity, however undeserving. After a couple of beers, we decided to take another flight. The takeoff went much more smoothly than the first and I was beginning to feel that we could do this as regular entertainment sending the entire gang aloft once the weather got warmer. As I confidently sailed along 150 feet above the water, I noticed that my brother Tim, driving the boat, was not paying attention to the channel markers and was heading into shallow water. I tried signaling and yelling as loud as I could to no avail and the next thing I knew the boat ran aground stopping instantly.

Now a parasail is designed to hold a person aloft while being towed forward. When the forward towing force stops, it does not have enough lift to keep the person up and comes down like a stone! This wouldn’t have been a problem if we had been over deep water, but it was my luck to land in 18 inches of water on a top of a sandbar! OOF! I gave it the classic parachute landing hitting with my feet, ankles, knees, hips and shoulders and rolling to absorb the shock, but it still feels like I’m two inches shorter than I used to be!
 
We decided to call it a day and headed back to the launch site to pick up the gang, only to find two Marine Police boats waiting for us. They had gotten about a dozen phone calls from concerned citizens reporting everything from a plane crash to a paratrooper invasion! (This happened to be during the Falkland Islands War when Argentina invaded the British owned islands in the south Atlantic). We told them we weren’t Argentinians, we were Pollocks which seemed to satisfy them, but then they wanted to inspect the boat to see if we had enough life vests. When everyone told them that the gang had been ferried there in two trips they let us alone.
 
Now back to the marina and bar for a handful of Advils washed down with copious amounts of Irish Coffee! 
 


November 2018 column

Being judgemental has consequences

One of my faults (although I prefer to call them “character traits”) is that I’m  prone to prejudge people when I first meet them and therefore probably miss out on a lot.
 
One incident that comes to mind occurred years ago when I owned a 40-foot wooden yawl. She was built of cedar planks over oak ribs in the Lawley yard at Neponset, Mass. in 1916. Of course she required a bit of maintenance and each year spent some time hauled out in the shipyard. During one of these haulouts I was taking a break and sitting around BS-ing with some of the ship’s carpenters, when this one old guy says “I went sailing once and I’ll never do it again.” All I could think of was “Here comes another boring story about how the boat heels too much or it’s too much work or the wind died etc, etc.” 
 
But when he explained that he had gotten a job oystering aboard a 70-foot skipjack in the Chesapeake my ears perked up! As a student at the University of Maryland I had worked oystering on the Chesapeake during one summer “break.” 
 
He said that on his first day on the boat, as they sailed home with a full catch he, “the new kid” was given the helm with the advice “mind the nets.” It seemed simple. You just turn the wheel and the boat goes anywhere you want while the crew adjusts the sails. He didn’t notice any nets around.
 
Now in the shallow areas of the Chesapeake there used to be a lot of what were called “gill nets” or “pound nets,” that is long fishing nets strung between poles driven into the bottom. They had a funnel shaped entrance, so the fish swam into them at high tide and couldn’t find their way out. At low tide, fishermen would come by and simply scoop up the trapped fish. They weren’t very visible at flood high tide. 
 
Since he didn’t know to look out for them, he soon sailed the boat right into the middle of one.  The skipjack came to a sudden stop with a jolt and the splintering of wood! One of the submerged poles had punched up thru the hull amidships!
 
You can imagine how scared the new guy was thinking the boat would sink and it was all his fault. But the rest of the crew sprang into action just like a NASCAR pit crew. They dropped the jib and unsnapped it from the forestay, then two of them hauled it under the bow of the boat pulling it back to where the pole pierced the hull, as a third man kept tension on the jib sheets from the bow, thus keeping the sail taut as it was dragged under the hull.

(The pole was acting as a cork keeping most of the water from rushing in and sinking the boat). Meanwhile the skipper sawed off the protruding end of the pole flush where it came through the hull, then hit it a mighty blow with a sledge hammer which drove it out of the hole, and before much water could rush in, the crew pulled the jib farther aft thus sealing the hole! (His job had been to man the bilge pump.)
 
Then they backed the mainsail and by shifting weight and fending off the rest of the poles they got free of the gill net and sailed home. Needless to say, the next day he was looking for another job that didn’t involve boats or oysters.
 
This is absolutely my favorite “sea disaster” story, heard first hand from a participant, and I had almost missed it! You never know what you can learn by keeping your mouth shut and your ears open!

 
October 2018 column


Let there be lighthouses!

Lighthouses have always enthralled me. Starting with the Pharos of Alexandria, which was one of the wonders of the ancient world and guided ships safely into harbor for hundreds of years until it was finally toppled by an earthquake, up to modern times when they’ve been made obsolescent by Radar, GPS and SATNAV.
 
I grew up literally in the shadow of the Twinlights of Navesink, which at 209 feet above sea level is the highest point on the Atlantic coast for 1,000 miles each way. (There are higher places inland, but they cannot be seen from the open ocean.) The Twinlights are composed of two towers set about 50 yards apart so as to form a “range,” i.e. when you line them up, you can plot a course directly thru the Verrazano Narrows channel and into New York harbor. From the top of either tower you can see the torch of the Statue of Liberty, which is also considered a lighthouse as her full name is “Liberty Enlightens the World.”
 
As a 5-year-old I remember my father, who was friends with the lighthouse keeper, took me up into the South tower which had the larger of the two lights. I recall seeing this gigantic array of glass lenses and thinking  “Gee, this thing is so big, I could stand upright inside of it!” Several years ago I revisited the lighthouse museum where the lens is on display and you know, it’s still so big, I can still stand upright inside of it!
 
A word about lighthouse lenses: They were developed by Fresnel, a French engineer in Napoleon’s army who was put in charge of the lighthouse service in the early 1800s. He assembled a series of lenses that would concentrate the beam of light horizontally instead of shining out in all directions, sort of like an early form of laser. The most powerful ones go up to 9,000,000,000 candle power and are called “First Class.” They include Boston Light, Fire Island Light, Barnegat Light (which was designed by none other than Robert E Lee as a young engineering officer right out of West Point), Cape Hatteras Light and the Twinlights of Navesink. The beams of these lights were so powerful that they could be seen 22 miles out to sea, and were actually extinguished during WWII to keep German submarines from making accurate landfalls from 22 miles offshore.
 
Each light has a unique phase, or time sequence when it alternates between lighted and dark. Some also have different colors or various combinations of colors, allowing seamen to tell which light they are looking at. This is usually accomplished by having the lens or combination of lenses rotate at a set speed. 
 
My favorite light is located atop the cliffs at Gay Head on the western end of Martha’s Vineyard Island, Mass. The place got its name hundreds of years ago because of the brilliantly colored clays in the cliffs, (I’m sure there is a group somewhere collecting signatures to have the name changed because it may offend someone.) This light has a rotating set of lenses that flash red, dark, white, dark, green, dark, white, dark every minute or so. When you lay underneath it on the grass on a misty night, each beam of light looks like the malevolent gaze of some primordial monster scanning the sea looking for prey!
 
Here on Lake Lanier we have our own beloved lighthouse at channel marker 5FB on the southern shore of Aqualand Marina. Many years ago I met a fellow whose family used to own Aqualand and he told me how the lighthouse came into being: When a small airplane crashed into the lake, he had the only barge big enough to carry a crane to pull it out of the water. When asked what he would charge for the job, he said nothing, he just thought it would be an interesting project. As he was chatting with the airplane owner he mentioned that his biggest problem were the waves that come rolling in from the “Atlanta Ocean” which, when the wind is out of the west, start building up in Cumming and by the time they reach Aqualand, they play havoc tossing  the boats and docks around.

The Corps of Engineers said he could build a breakwater but the cost was prohibitive. The plane owner happened to own a cement company. He said “What you need is Haulbacks.” He then explained that a cement truck holds about nine cubic yards of concrete, and if a job only uses seven yards they have to haul the remainder back to the plant and dump it. Sometimes it is used to make the huge blocks you see as barriers during construction on highways, or various other things but most of the time the excess concrete is simply dumped. He told my friend that if he would set up the forms for the blocks, he could have all the concrete he could use!

That is how the breakwater came into being. Once it was finished, the Corps told him to “Put a light on it.” He figured he had invested so much work in building the breakwater that the light should have a little class. Thus he designed and built the lighthouse you see there today. It is not only decorative, but also lets mariners know where they are on Lanier, which after dark, is just as confusing (and sometimes forbidding) as the open ocean. In addition, it has the distinction of being the highest lighthouse east of the Mississippi, including the Great Lakes!
 
The sequel to this is that once the lighthouse was built, the Corps got on him for building a structure on Corp property without a permit. He countered with ”Hey, you told me to put a light on it, so I put a light on it!”
 
September 2018 column

Champagne for the Baron

Years ago our friend Ray was retiring to the Caribbean. I was extremely jealous as he was a lot younger than me and had a bunch more money. 
 
He and his wife bought a 36 foot sailboat and after several months outfitting it, they headed south. Now the Cruising Club of America holds a race each year from Norfolk VA to the Bitter End Yacht Club on Virgin Gorda, and they decided to enter. Since CCA’s main priority is safety, they require all participants to attend interminable safety lectures, have the proper safety equipment on board and undergo an inspection of their boat before being allowed to race. Since he had conned my brother Hank into sailing with them, I had arranged a business trip to Norfolk to see them off. I also brought my Scuba gear to scrub off and inspect their bottom before the race.

When I arrived, they were freaking out because they were running out of money! The cash and travelers’ checks they brought was almost gone and no one in Norfolk would cash an out of state check. Meanwhile they needed a lot more equipment than they had planned on and the marina was a $20 cab ride from the nearest hardware store, supermarket, etc. I suggested they get a low end rental car for the week to solve the transportation problem. Then I checked with a friend who was a bank manager, who suggested that since they had an Amex card, they go to the American Express Office, where there was a record of their signature and they could cash a check. 
 
Meanwhile I dove under the boat to clean the bottom, with about 6” visibility in the murky water, and noticed that the front end of the keel seemed to be slightly separated from the boat, not enough to slip my dive knife in but maybe the thickness of a playing card. I figured that the keel bolts had started to work loose, and I told Ray. He freaked out again saying that the caulking was clear silicone and you were supposed to see through it. Also the race was to start the next day so he refused to haul it out for an inspection. Since it was his boat and I had registered my concern, I let the matter drop.
 
They arrived in Virgin Gorda, and sitting at anchor one of the crew members put on a mask and snorkel and dove under the boat. He came up all excited insisting everyone hop in the water as he had something to show them. There in the crystal clear water they could all see that the front of the keel had separated about six inches from the hull for about two feet back. Ray freaked out again (I think this was his usual state of mind), planning to get towed over to St John’s for a haulout. At this point Hank, who owns a marina, and has experience dealing with freaked out boat owners, pointed out that they were going to have to learn how to be resourceful to survive in the Caribbean. He pointed out a 175 foot yacht named the “GITANA” anchored across the harbor. He said there probably wasn’t a bolt on their engine that was smaller than 50mm. “Why don’t you row over and ask to borrow a socket set?”
 
Ray did just that and within an hour the keel was back where it should be with the bolts all properly tightened and locked down. He was going to return the tools when he decided he should show his appreciation in some small way. They had won a bottle of Tattinger’s champagne at a trivia contest the night before, so he took that. When he rowed back to his boat he had a strange look on his face. Hank asked what was wrong and he said the fellow had just given him a strange look and said something that sounded like “Merde.”
 
A couple of months later I was reading in a sailing magazine that the Baron Rothschild (yes, THAT Baron Rothschild) was touring his vineyards in the Caribbean aboard his 175 foot yacht the “GITANA.” 
 
All I could think of is “Merde.”


August 2018 column

The wandering dock

One of my best friends is Harry. The two of us are really the “Odd Couple.” He came from a northwestern state where you are almost born in the saddle and he knows everything there is to know about riding in rodeos and punching cows. I came from the Jersey shore, where my family owns a marina so I know an awful lot about boats and docks. We share the common bond of having escaped from the north, where in the middle of February, we’d be lying on our bellies in a crawl space, trying to thaw out frozen pipes with a propane torch.  Needless to say, we never looked back! When I am asked “If you were in jail at 3 o’clock in the morning and you had to call a friend to bail you out, who would it be?” it wouldn’t be him. He’d be there right beside me saying “Man, wasn’t that hot s##t!”
 
A few years ago he acquired a nice fishing boat, complete with 100 hp outboard, rod holders, trolling motor, stereo system, beer cooler, etc. (i.e. everything you need to catch fish on Lake Lanier.) Now the lake level has been down for the past few years, so Harry just let his dock sit on the bottom and did not think much about it. Evidently he didn’t know that you have to leave the cables that raise and lower the spuds (the iron pipes that hold the dock in place) loose when the lake comes up. Otherwise the spuds come up with the dock, and the dock is no longer attached to the bottom of the lake. It is now at the mercy of whichever way the wind blows.
 
Evidently this is what happened. I got a call one morning asking to help tow it back from where it wound up at the state park across the lake.  His boat was tied up on the dock, but the battery was out of it and the motor had been winterized, so we got into my old Tartan 36 sailboat and headed across the lake. Now the Tartan is a racing boat and she draws seven feet of water. When we got within about 30 feet of the dock, THUMP, we ran aground! After backing off, I got out a grappling hook and we managed to throw it across to the dock and pull it out to where we could secure it to the boat and tow it back where it belonged.
 
After that, each morning I’d look out the kitchen window as lake level rose. I would see his dock across the cove. One morning I looked out and something was missing … the dock. I called him up and when his wife answered I said  ”Do you know something I don’t know or has your dock gone on walkabout again?” She looked out the window, muttered the words that go with SOB, and then then with the phone muffled, ”HARRY”!
 
We spent the next several days motoring around the lake looking for the runaway dock with binoculars to no avail. I mentioned that it must have wound up on a park or an island because if it was in someone’s back yard they would take the number off the dock permit and call the Corps of Engineers to find out who owned it. He said there was a slight problem there because he thought his wife had renewed the permit and she thought he had. Then I said they would take the number off the bow of the boat and call the DNR and get his name. He said that was also a problem because when he bought the boat there was still two years left on the registration sticker, so he hadn’t bothered to change the title. After that I kept my ideas to myself.
 
We spent several days looking everywhere with my Tartan, but were constrained by the seven foot draft and the 50 foot mast so we couldn’t get into shallow areas or under electrical wires or bridges. Finally, he borrowed a power boat from another neighbor and did some more looking to no avail. Then one morning I woke up and there was the dock, back in our cove, within 100 yards of where it was supposed to be. I ran down and secured it so it couldn’t escape again and later that day we pulled it back where it belonged. This time I secured it with a steel cable to an iron spike in the shore as well as the spuds. 
 
All we could think of was that it had drifted just around the point into another cove, and we had missed it on all of our searched because it was right under our noses. But like Little Bo Peep’s lost sheep, it came back on its own, wagging its tail behind it!
 
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