Monthly Archives: July 2013

Right or left???

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. My days of working in and around marinas and boatyards, either as an employee or a customer, has provided me an abundance of writing material.  Boats sinking, burning, heavy objects being lifted and shifted by heavy equipment,  stray electricity, storms, heat, ice,  and so on. Case in point: the above photo. The memorable quote in the above case was: “The mechanic stated he smell gasoline, and when he started the boat it just burst into flame.” Uhm….yeah. No comment. Amazingly, no one was hurt. A bit singed, perhaps, but the boat was a total loss. And then there’s the humans you find around the water. The marine environment attracts some truly unique and interesting characters, from the yard crews and office staff, to the customers, and even an occasional critter hiding in the attic. The transient pictured below was gently and humanely relocated to the nearby marshland. I could — and ultimately will — fill pages with the things I’ve seen and heard over the years. Of course, in a fictional context, names and situations will be changed, but the material I encounter is a virtual well-spring of inspiration on the behavior of humans on and around boats.  Some times I have to shake my head and laugh, (or at least try to laugh,) because you simply can’t make this sh*t up.  For example: the boat we found tied to the dock in the morning, half sunk, with a flooded cockpit, the forward hatch open, THE MAIN UP and the jib piled on the deck and hanging overboard. When I called the owner, he replied that he had left it that way because he “went sailing yesterday and will be going out tomorrow,” and he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, understand why leaving his boat under sail at the dock was an issue. It was a miracle it hadn’t gone over during the storm we’d had overnight, though he fully acknowledged that his cockpit drains were permanently clogged, which explained the abundance of water on the wrong side of the hull. Yet he couldn’t understood why I felt it necessary to call him on any of these matters. Maybe I’m being too picky, but behavior like that makes my head hurt. It’s something marinas deal with constantly, so we should be used to these ‘quirky’ customers.  And whenever I think I’ve seen it all, like the fellow complaining that someone dinged his boat – – a bashed up center console that annually sinks, is filled with junk and quite literally has grass growing through cracks in the cockpit — that I get a call that takes the prize. Caller, sounding slightly aggravated: “Yeah. How do I figure out where I am on the river?” Me, already getting a bad feeling: “You’re calling from a boat? Are you in distress? Is there some sort of emergency?” Caller: “No. I just want to park at the restaurant for lunch. How do I find you guys?” Me: “Uhm. Charts. Navigational instruments. Do you have them aboard?” Caller: “I don’t know how to use them. Can’t you just tell me which way to go?” Deep breath. Me: “Where did you start from, and are you travelling north or south.” Caller: “I got gas but I don’t know where that was, and when I left there I made a right. I don’t know that north and south stuff.” His tone grew more irritable. “Can’t you just tell me if I should go right or left?” Wince. These are the people we share the waterways with.  Another deep breath. Me: “Do you have a smart phone? Look up Google maps. That should give you a general idea.” Caller: “Oh, hey! Great! Thanks!” And when ultimately he did arrive, aided by his data plan,  it was aboard a shiny new $250K boat sporting every bell and whistle, including all the latest and greatest nav instruments. No, you can’t make this sh*t up.

*HOW* Fast???

how fast

It’s all a blur! Ah, those leaky decks bring back memories.

For years I’ve moved at displacement speed, at first under sail and most recently chugging along at six to seven knots in my stocky little trawler. Displacement speed teaches patience. The horizon hangs off in the distance with oil-painting like permanency and the shoreline changes in incremental fractions. Other boats come into view, radioing their location to friends (“I’m coming up on some slow trawler,”) as though you’re a fixed aid to navigation and then continue on to disappear into that still unchanged horizon. You have plenty of time to think, plenty of time to remind yourself you’re in no rush, after all getting there is half the fun and all those speed demons are just racing from fuel dock to fuel dock, wallets in hand. But sometimes… sometimes the ‘GETTING there’ part gets a bit old. There’s still that other half, BEING there, especially when the weather turns ugly and ‘there’ is somewhere comfortable and secure, with a hot shower, dry clothes and a warm meal.

Back when I was working in a boatyard we had a hand-full of customers with insanely high-speed performance boats stop by from time to time. And on one particular occasion a fellow had launched his rocket toy and asked if anyone wanted to join him as he tested some of the latest performance tweaks he’d made to the engines. It was a slow day, none of us were doing much of anything, and my story had some chapters with a similar boat, so I said, “Sure, I’ll go.”

The river was glassy smooth as we set out, with the faintest hint of a breeze stirring along the Saturday morning sailors. As we cleared the mooring field my friend pushed the throttle forward, the engines roared, and I was forced backwards into my seat. The world around us seemed to freeze; at that velocity we were the only thing moving as we shot between the now motionless sailboats, and for a moment I recalled that scene in Return of the Jedi, where the speeder bikes threaded between the giant trees in the forests of Endor. Time and relativity had been turned upside down; I’m certain if I’d checked, the hands on my watch had stopped. The water beneath us had gone from a gently rolling fluid to rock hard solid, the hull banging across it like a runaway bobsled on ice as we shot beneath the Tappan Zee Bridge and past the astonished faces aboard the sloop Clearwater. Within minutes we’d covered water that would have taken me half a day’s sail to navigate. I couldn’t move, I don’t think I even blinked, but my tearing eyes shifted to the GPS and it felt as though my heart stopped. We were travelling at 92 mph. At last we had gone full circle and I was returned to the dock, dazed and stunned as I tried to process the wild ride. It was a hell of an experience, and one I came away from a bit bruised and a lot wiser, with plenty of material for those chapters I was writing and a new-found appreciation for displacement speed.