When I was starting my career in photography, I carried a camera everywhere I went. I took some great pictures, but after a few years, I began to feel it becoming a drag. It was heavy, and it seemed like sometimes I was missing things because I was only focused on whatever was in the viewfinder. I started leaving the camera at home and found it liberating. I could just enjoy the trip without worrying about making a great picture of it.
Now, we have a new boat and I’m torn between writing down everything about it and actually getting on board and enjoying her. So, I’m trying to strike a balance. We spent an hour this morning lifting all the cushions in the cabin, opening all the storage lockers and poking around under the tiny sink. I got a little whisk broom and some baby wipes and did a little cleaning. She was very clean when we got her, but we’d gotten some dirt on her in the meantime. We feel like new parents wanting to check all our baby’s fingers and toes. I told Eric she smells like the sea (even though she’s never been in salt water – yet!) and he said dryly, “That’s mildew.” Whatever. I think she smells great!
For the maiden voyage, we borrowed a gigantic diesel truck from a friend of Eric’s and rode over to Sanford, about an hour away. We were so excited I almost had to stop to pee on the way. The previous owner, Joe, was waiting for us and answered our last minute questions like how does the portapottie work (he never used it) and where is the winch handle (“down below” was his answer and we never did find it until we finished our sail and called him to ask and he said it was in the cooler. Of course.) and doesn’t that trailer tire look soft? He kindly brought out his air compressor and we put a ton of air into the starboard tire, saving us what might have been a difficult time getting in and out of a gas station with thirty feet of boat and trailer behind a monster truck. Good thing Eric was driving. He has experience with trailers. I’m hopeless.
We drove to New Hope Overlook Recreation Area on Lake Jordan where Eric had heard there was a nice quiet boat ramp. It was. There was one small powerboat and five ramps with three docks. Perfect. I was very worried that we would take too long and annoy the power boaters who get in and out in a hurry. We had the gigantic parking lot to ourselves. We spent about an hour raising the mast and rigging the boat. Joe had demonstrated how to raise and lower the mast when we first looked at her, so luckily Eric had a good idea how to accomplish it. We got her up and hooked on the boom and threaded the sail into the mast slot but left it tied down. We threw our stuff down below and I stood around giving bad directions while Eric managed to get our baby down the ramp anyhow. I can’t imagine how he manages a trailer that big. The one time I tried it I was completely defeated.
Eric climbed over the trailer to get inside the cabin to open the water ballast tank and let the water in. I took the bowline and he drove her all the way in until she floated free and I tied her up. The wind was blowing at a good clip, the water was dotted with white caps and I was very nervous. We tied her up on the leeward side of the dock, so at least she wasn’t blowing into the dock. But when Eric got the motor started and I cast off the lines, I found she was blowing away really fast. I nearly fell in the water trying to climb aboard (she who hesitates…) and made a very ungraceful wiggle under the bow rail feet first. Safely aboard, I looked over to the Coast Guard Auxiliary boat, standing by, and yelled, “You didn’t see that!” And they yelled back sheepishly, “Oh, no, we didn’t see a thing!” and we all laughed good-naturedly. Over the summer we’d been hassled by the boat police on a borrowed powerboat in South Carolina and Eric had gotten an expensive ticket, but we both agreed that this time we were glad the “police” were standing by in case we got into trouble. Since this was our boat, we had seen to it that she was fully equipped with safety gear before setting out so we were totally legal. Eric had even seen to insurance, bless his heart.
Everything was going swimmingly until about a half mile from the dock the outboard quit. Oh crap. My former boat had a well-maintained inboard engine I had never had a minute’s trouble with. It was like a car, you turned a key, it started and there was a throttle (reverse and forward) and a tiller. This outboard thing was a complete mystery to me. Eric fiddled with it for some time, while we drifted in this wind toward a little island and I contemplated calling the Auxiliary on the VHF, as one of them had mentioned they would be monitoring channel 16. Bless their hearts.
By some miracle, he got the engine going and we motored over to a little cove where we’d decided to anchor in the lee of the trees while we tried to figure things out. By this time it was long past noon and I was famished. Rigging the boat had been a lot of work and I was very glad I’d packed food. I even got to drop the anchor, which I was scared of since Darrel was always in charge of that on Skybird while I worked the tiller. But I screwed up my courage and pulled out the anchor, making sure that the end of the line was actually secured to the boat first. Clever me. We were only in about twelve feet of water, so it didn’t take much. I cleated off the line and we were stuck fast. I was rather pleased with myself.
We sat in the cockpit and ate and shared a beer, Eric even poured a little over the bow for good measure. We had previously decided that she was just not a champagne boat. She’s a good old Bass Ale boat. And, anyway, it’s not like she’d never been in the water before.
The wind was really blowing, we were swinging back and forth on the hook and I was frankly scared to hoist a sail. But Eric was firm. We would hoist a sail, no matter what. Luckily, he was right. We motored out into the big part of the lake and I steered up into the wind, which was blowing pretty steady from the west/northwest. The motor went ahead and died, but Eric was already raising the main and our sweet baby just took to it like she was made to sail. Ah hem. We fairly flew along up the lake to the north, where we could see a sailboat race in progress. I was very nervous about getting in the middle of it, but we were quite far from it, so it was really not an issue. I guess I was so nervous to begin with that any little thing would send me over the panicky edge. Eric was calm, happy and delighted and it started to wear off on me.
The boat sailed like a dream. She seemed to be content with whatever heading I chose, even very close to the wind. We’d heard some complaints that the boat was “tender” but after Eric’s 11-foot row/sailboat, Carol and Zack, we felt the Hunter was quite stable. I didn’t mind the heel at all, but it freaked Eric out. It was easy to control by heading up into the wind, so I was able to keep him comfortable with no more than ten or fifteen degrees of heel. We sailed up past the Vista Point boat ramp, where a small sailboat was being towed in. Eric found out later that it was his coworker, who had been in the race and had turtled his boat, trapping a crew member in the cockpit air pocket. She untangled herself from the rigging and swam out, but poor Andrew was understandably freaked out.
But we knew none of this at the time. We were having a ball. We sailed around the point at Seaforth and were thinking of going further when my inner alarm clock went off and I suggested we ought to head back. It was still early, about 2:30, but my “Little Voice” had spoken and we knew better than to ignore it.
We came about and the boat just sailed on. It was great. We leaned back in the cockpit and gazed up at the sail, perfectly filled with air, the sun lighting it up against the blue sky, the letters H23.5 so pretty in blue and red. Our baby was not just perfect; she was pretty too. We were smitten. The cockpit is very roomy and the raised stern seats are a great place to ride, complete with cupholders! She even has a bimini cover to keep the sun off the cockpit.
We sailed back toward the ramp and when we got close, I got nervous and we decided to start the engine in the middle of the lake. Lucky we did too, because it would not start. It would begin to turn over, and then just die. Eric did troubleshooting while I watched the traffic and the shore. We were fine, but the motor would not run. Eric called Joe and got no answer. We were on our own.
We still had the sail up, so we decided to go to the windward side to allow for drift while we fiddled with the pesky Tohatsu. I threw out the anchor again and somehow, after much ado, Eric got the motor going. I think he was pumping the prime bulb on the fuel line to keep her going. I hauled up the anchor in a hurry and we headed for the ramp, holding our breath.
Forty feet from the dock, the motor died. Just then, the Auxiliary boat came past us, oblivious to our plight. They even tucked into the dock we were aiming for, which turned out to be a good thing because we had just enough momentum to drift into the nearest dock. Luckily we had already planned to land on the windward side and we had the fenders in place on the port side. I jumped off, rather more gracefully this time, and tied her up, no problem.
We got her up on the trailer with the docklines, another advantage of a smaller boat. We pulled up the keel and Eric winched her in. He also remembered to raise the rudder. But the rudder was impossibly heavy. Later, Eric said it was a common complaint about this boat and the solution was to drill a hole in the rudder and attach another line to haul it up. We settled for raising it halfway, which was all she wrote, as my first husband, the marine engineer, would say.
I bit my lip as he drove the trailer out of the water. I couldn’t see from the dock whether she was sitting right or not, but apparently the trailer is well-designed and our girl knew just what to do. Such a good boat!! Eric and I climbed aboard and opened the valve on the ballast tank. But apparently, she was not out of the water far enough, because when he tried to drive farther, I could hear the water sloshing. We opened the valve again and more water came out.
We got in the truck to move to a parking place. Halfway across the parking lot, we heard the Auxiliary guys yelling, “Hey!” and “You’re dragging your rudder!” Crap. We forgot the rudder. Luckily it was only dragging on a bounce and was only slightly sanded and flattened. You never forget that first ding. Ow.
It took us about an hour to de-rig the boat and lower the mast. In the middle of it, Joe called and we found out that the winch handle was in the cooler (of course) and the fuel was at least nine months old. That explains it. Mostly the de-rigging went very well, but at the end, neither of us could remember how the boat was strapped to the trailer. I pulled the straps out of the cockpit locker, but they were too short. We scratched our heads and looked at each other. I strained my brain and remembered that the straps had been orange. There were two short orange pieces and I tried to fit them together. Eric had an “Ah-ha” moment and remembered how they went, with the orange bit wrapped around a stanchion and attached to the brown strap and hooked to a ring on the trailer. Nifty.
We got her home and parked in the driveway in exactly enough time to collect the kids. We could hardly keep ourselves from lingering in the yard to admire her. She is a beauty and we’re so happy with her. The next morning we all climbed aboard and continued our exploration of all her nooks and crannies. She’s a great boat, we all agreed. Can’t wait to get her out in salt water. Oh boy!