Tag Archives: navigation

But how did you get here??

Last week I mentioned cruising aboard the little cuddy-cabin my husband and owned back in our twenties. And as I said, we had many good times aboard that boat. But there’s one in particular we still laugh about – our arrival at Block Island. It was right after that two-day stop-over in Mystic, and wanting to squeeze in as much time as possible on the island, we departed the Seaport before dawn had  begun to tint the horizon. We had our course plotted, the engine was running perfectly, and off we ventured into the darkness.

The passage went smoothly, with nothing but miles of wide, flat rollers while the engine hummed and the blackness gradually gave way to a murky fog-bound grey. We stayed on course, and right on schedule, we reached the red bell buoy marking the entrance to the Great Salt Pond. We motored slowly through the crowded anchorage and made our way to Payne’s Dock, where we had a slip waiting at the floating dock with the thirty foot and under crowd. It was still early; the sun was starting to burn away the gloom, people were just beginning to stir, and the fellow on the 28’ flybridge Carver we were docking beside paused from his mug of steaming coffee to give us a hand tying up. And then he asked the strangest question.

“How did you get here?”

Huh? I looked to my husband, he looked to me, and we both looked to the boat we’d docked only moments before. The answer seemed fairly self-evident. But maybe not. Carver asked a second time, as though we hadn’t understood the question. In reply, I pointed to the boat we were standing in.

But that, it seems, wasn’t the answer he was looking for, so this time he rephrased his question. “But the ferries aren’t running yet. How did you get here?”

Am I missing something here? My husband and I look at each other, perplexed, and this time I state the obvious: “We came by boat.”

Still Carver looked as baffled as us, and finally he elaborated enough to explain his confusion and clear up ours. He said, “But the ferry isn’t running this early. How did you find the island?”

Ahhh! That’s what he meant. I pointed to the compass and my husband held up the chart.

“Oh,” Carver replied. “You know how to use those? We just follow the ferry.”

And sure enough, later that day as we hiked around the island and saw the ferry arriving, it was trailed by a small flotilla of boats, much like a duck with ducklings. Apparently, our friend from the docks wasn’t the only one who used that method of navigation. And while it may have been a reliable way to get from point A to point B in those pre-GPS days, personally, I’d rather plot my own course to explore new and unfamiliar waters, rather than follow in someone else’s wake.

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The K.I.S.S. approach to cruising…

C.E. Grundler

The other day I overheard a couple discussing their ideal boat, and I’ll have to admit, it was impressive. The fun of theoretical boats lies in the fact that no expense need be spared — we’re talking theoretical, after all.  But as I listened, I recalled that very boat, the *ideal* boat, because I’d been docked beside it once, years ago.  And more important, it brought to mind a lesson I learned along the way – one that has stayed with me ever since.

My husband and I took a little cruise aboard Sandcrab, the little cuddy-cabin we owned at the time. It wasn’t much of a cruise, really, just a short getaway. Our daughter was small and my parents offered to watch her for a week, so we threw a dufflebag of clothes and an ice-chest of coldcuts, soda and bagels onto our 23’ vessel and set out for adventure… or at least a few days to ourselves. And let me tell you, we were cruising in style.  Amenities consisted of vee-bunks beneath a deck that leaked (some things never change) a porta-potti, and the aforementioned ice-chest. Instruments consisted of a compass, VHF and a depth finder that read ‘ERR’ whenever the water got skinny, and we had a stack of paper charts.  That was it. This was before the time of GPS on shiny tablets, cells phones and all the other bells and whistles that many couldn’t imagine leaving the dock without these days.

And yet, aboard that little boat we traveled to some wonderful locations. There was no set cruise plan; we picked a spot, set out, and since the boat itself hadn’t drained our budget we were able to tie up in some very nice marinas each night. With a boat that small, there was never need to call ahead; they’d always find some spot to tuck us in, and transient fees were minimal. At Mystic Seaport we found ourselves placed into a slip meant for a boat three times our size, surrounded by vessels we could only dream of, towering over us quite comically.

The couple to our port side were lovely people, liveaboards with a well-used boat and countless miles beneath their keel. The couple in the shiny new ketch to starboard, with the TV flickering and the AC humming, however… well, let’s just say HE wanted that *&#@%! boat, and SHE wanted to spend that money remodeling the kitchen… and needless to say, neither of them were happy. With the way sound carries through fiberglass hulls and water in the quiet hours of the night, we all knew in great detail just how unhappy they were. He kept raising the volume on the TV, and she kept raising her volume to match. My husband had walked down the road in search of ice to replenish our cooler, and I was about to go over and say something when the fellow to port had a word with starboard about keeping it down.

When my husband returned, all was once again quiet on the waterfront. As he climbed aboard with the ice, he looked to starboard and remarked about ‘someday, a boat like that.” I explained how not everything about that boat was as shiny as it appeared. And while that couple stayed below with all their fine amenities, simmering anger and resentment, we happily ate our cold sandwiches in the cockpit, then wandered the now silent, darkened Seaport filled with magnificently restored square riggers, schooners and sloops, sitting ghostly in the moonlight.

That little boat took us many places, on that cruise and others, and through it all I came to appreciate the freedom that came from keeping things simple. We could tie up just about anywhere, and occasionally we even skipped the baloney sandwiches for dinner in some very nice restaurants. And when we chose the trawler we have now, we intentionally sought something on the small and simple end of the scale. Yes, it’s nice to have an enclosed head, a real stove and standing headroom, but 32’ still leaves us the ability to cruise in the style to which we’ve become accustomed… at least, once we’re back off the hard, that is!

And for a bit more on really K.I.S.S. boating, a ‘build your own’ video, (it’s funny how much these engines sound like my diesel,) as well as a wonderful demo video of the boat pictured above, (sorry, no subtitles, but I do love that this guy is wearing an ‘Eight Heads in a Dufflebag’ tee-shirt!): Ponyo Pop-Pop Boat

 

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.