Archive for September, 2008

Signing and Sailing

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

My first Seaborn book signing is set for October 11 from one to three in the afternoon at Yellow Umbrella Books in Chatham.  It turns out to be a double bill: Carol McManus, author of a cookbook called Table Talk will be signing books as well.  She’ll also cook snacks. Maybe she’ll pass a few my way.  My book does mention meltaways from Bonatt’s Bakery. Maybe I should stop there on my way down and have a box of those luscious pastries to dole out myself. But wait: This isn’t a competition, is it?

The weather looks questionable for sailing this weekend. Hurricane Kyle churned up the atmosphere as it passed, it seems, and dragged tropical swirls our way. Sunday was a muggy mess, and yesterday morning Salty and I were drenched moments after we stepped out into the dark downpour. My tee-shirt adhered to my skin like cold paste.  The next few days look unsettled, and then we’ll have to contend with possible thirty knots of wind on Friday and almost as much on the weekend, so sailing Finn looks doubtful for another week. I can imagine how many barnacles coat the hull and how much water sloshes around in the bilge.  I hope we can get out the first two weekends in October. We’re scheduled to haul her out the weekend following Columbus Day.

The day we haul her out can be sporty at best. Last year was somewhat unnerving because the moon tide was so high the breakwater was submerged and the jetties all disappeared. I was left with the disorienting sense that the water was bulging and tilting. The year before a northerly gale was blowing under Copenhagen blues skies and tatters of white and gray cloud. Then there was the year Ophelia threatened to hit us and we hauled Finn out in the middle of September on a gray, nearly windless day when the water lay smooth as sheet metal. We’ll have to see what Poseidon and Aeolus offer us this year, won’t we? 

Drafty Day

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

Maybe the small craft advisory was overstating the case. That was my hope when I hauled the dinghy down the path to the beach last Friday morning. The air was bracing, the shadows sharp, the sun brilliant, the beach grass flinging slender shadows like pinwheels in the puffs. The tide was so high it almost submerged the rocks of the jetty. The water was clear as blue-tinted glass and only shivered with the effects of the wind this close to shore. By the time I rowed out to Finn, though, where the water had more of a northeastern exposure, a chop stood up and the water surface trembled in the hard gusts. I climbed aboard, my hope for an easy sail thinning. I pumped out the bilge, cut the top off the juice jug I’d brought to make a new bailer, retied the mooring line, neatened up the anchor line, tightened the mainsheet, checked the sail cover, pounded in the mast shims more securely, all the while keeping an eye on the wind as I weighed whether or not to sail. One big sloop headed out of the inner Megansett Harbor, flying only her jib.  The more the wind tore at my chamois shirt and Finn searched back and forth on her mooring, the less alluring the thought of sailing became.

But then the wind would lighten and I’d think “Now this is more like it” and start to plot my moves to get her underway. Moments later the northeast wind would blast us, shattering the water and spurring Finn to dash around on her line.  I know my boat and how heavy a helm I’d have to contend with in the gusts. I’d be wet, and I’d left my oilskins at home. A light airs sailor? The sports who sail the Wenaumet Kittens in every kind of Buzzards Bay blow would scoff at me.

So in the end I opted not to sail but to content myself with sitting in the cockpit, watching the gusts rip at the ensign of another big sloop moored in the inner harbor and whip the dark blue water and greenish shallows into a frenzy of racing ripples and short chop. I gazed at the uniform ice-gray and white tubular clouds lying across the northern horizon, the jagged edge of the open water out in Buzzards Bay, and the onion skin moon drifting above Seal Rocks. I could have sat for hours, the sound of the halyard on the Marshall Cat on the mooring beyond us rapping in the wind and the waves splashing and gulping past our hull.  How many times did I watch the osprey coast to windward, bank, shoot downwind, then turn and repeat its patrol above the water? I lost track, but I found contentment just sitting aboard my restless boat.

Moon Voyage

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

I’m in a continual fizz of excitement because of this string of superlative days and nights. Waking up in the middle of the night to see the veil of blue white moonlight and feel the crisp air coming in the windows and listen to the purr and pulse of the hardy crickets makes up for whatever sleep I lose. This seems to be the season of cirrus: When my dog Salty and I went running out in the early morning lunar light, the sky was brushed with pale swaths of graceful translucent cloud among the stars.  They must have been the harbinger of a change: By seven thirty, the sky was whisked of any trace of cloud, and a northerly wind shivered the leaves of the trees that were sliced with low-angled sun and shadow.  The snowy gibbous moon ghosted high above in the blue.

Small craft warnings have been posted for Buzzards Bay and elsewhere for today into tomorrow morning. We might still be in luck for sailing tomorrow, though, since by the time we get down there the wind may have relaxed. Even if the wind puffs, we could reef the sail, head into the inner part of Megansett Harbor, and weave our way up the channel into Squeteague Harbor.  Gusty as the wind may be, the waves won’t have a chance to build up, so we can cruise around without having to wear oilskins and manhandle the helm.  Whatever the conditions are, I’m chafing to get aboard Finn.  Even if we don’t take her off her mooring, I’ll row the dinghy out to her to spend some time aboard. It’s not exactly the idyllic trip Daniel Robb took in his rebuilt Herreshoff that he recounts in the latter part of his wonderful book called Sloop, but it’ll do.

Long after daylight this morning, I glimpsed the moon sailing off toward the northwest, soon to dip behind the tops of the pines. It was on its voyage beyond the curve of the earth, on a course to reunite with us after nightfall following its daylong trip through the unknown.

Yellow Umbrella Books in Chatham, one of my favorite bookstores, may have me for a signing in early October. I’ll know for certain soon.

Sailing Season

Friday, September 12th, 2008

Out my window, a golden gibbous moon glides above the birch as the last of the light evaporates from the sky. Darkness gathers in the woods, though the treetops above the field glow with a gentle afterlight. Decidedly cool air settles in with the darkness, muffling the crickets except for the steady buzzing hiss coming from the woods beyond the shed. A few others chime in but not with the gusto as on warmer nights. The coolness and striking luminous light of this time of the year are coupled with leavings: bird migrations, diminishing insect song, foliage change, so that the beauty carries a tang of wistfulness. I’m entranced by this duality. Isn’t wistfulness and a touch of melancholy always a part of something truly beautiful?

Our sailing season winds down, and now I can think of little else: When can we get back down to check the boat, let alone have time to sail? Will we have to contend with a hurricane in the weeks to come? How many more days do we have before the northerlies make sailing more of an endurance test than a delight? On the day we decide to haul the boat out for the season, will the wind roar, spin out windrows on the water, kick up a frenzy of whitecaps as it has in years past?

Already I think ahead to the long winter without Finn. Inside me swells that pang I feel for her cedar deck beneath my feet, the tiller alive in my grip, the hull surging forward, the sail belling and snapping. Already I crave our boat, and we haven’t even put her away. So in a sense, I suppose, sailing season never ends. Even when she’s zipped up tight and stowed away and I’m reveling in the richness of the dark days of winter, I’ll be aboard her, on a course for Cleveland Ledge light.

“I cannot not sail,” wrote E.B. White in an essay called “The Sea and the Wind that Blows,” by which I’m sure he also meant that he could not not sail even in his dreams.

Storm Scare

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

With Hanna looming last weekend, my dilemma became whether or not to pull our catboat out of the water ahead of it.  We were supposed to see torrential rains and gusts over fifty knots.  But I decided to chance it and leave Finn on her mooring since the hardest wind was forecast to blow out of the southeast, which would leave her in the lee of the land. The seas wouldn’t have a chance to build up because there’s not much of a fetch between the land and the mooring field. Since she was buttoned up tight with her sail cover and cockpit cover, she would be able to withstand the deluge. Peter Eastman at Howard Boats,, who built Finn, concurred. He said he wasn’t hauling any of his boats over in Barnstable Harbor.

At around two o’clock on Sunday morning I woke up to rain lashing the windows. Outside, the air was impossibly swampy, Borneo-thick, with this visitation from the tropics. The wind hadn’t seemed to rise much yet. But what if it did, and Finn broke loose from her mooring? Doubts began bedeviling me. Would she drift into the rocks? Would she be swamped? Would another boat break loose and run her down? I thought of Luke aboard Piper in Seaborn., contending with this kind of storm. The thought made me slightly queasy as I looked through the steamed-up, rain spattered windows and leaves beginning to surge in the outside lights.

I went back to bed expecting to be rousted by rattling and banging and thunderous downpours, but instead I woke hours later to pristine sunlight. I blinked at a cloudless blue sky and the trees etched in vivid definition in the cleansed air.  All was well with the boat, I learned later in the morning, considering that the wind never blew harder than it does some days during the summer in a rambunctious sou’wester gusting straight up Buzzards Bay. Still, somewhere out there, if only in my imagination, Luke was contending with the aftermath of the blow, fighting his fears alone. 

I, of course, climbed out of bed to feed the dog.


A School of Pogies

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

The tide was dead low when we dropped off the mooring on Saturday afternoon, only a couple of feet of lens-clear water between us and the sand and weeds below.  A light southerly breeze riffled the water under gray skies that produced intermittent misty rainshowers.  I suggested to Matthew that he take the dinghy out to Halftide Rock, where the water stands about seven or eight feet even at low tide, and tie up to the flag pole stuck in the rock there so he could fish.  I sailed out in Finn toward the near buoy, letting the water chuckle past the hull as I gazed out across the gray-green water to Cleveland Ledge light draped in a shower. I dangled my hand in the water, letting it run silky and chilly through my fingers, and breathed in the cool marine air. The boat slipped along, heeling lightly, and for a few moments I was transported, a solo sailor with nothing in his head but the sounds and sights and smells of the watery world encircling him.  And a particular smell there was: the sweet sardine tang of a school of fish surfacing nearby.

Sure enough, when I came about, I passed a patch of fish breaking the surface, and I sailed over to the rock where Mattie was casting. “I smell fish,” he said as he tossed me the painter. “So do I,” I said. “They’re over there.”  We sailed back out to the slick, and cut back and forth through the school, coming about and jibing as necessary in the light breeze and occasional drizzle. Mattie caught two fish that turned out to be pogies, fish I used to snag for bait back in my Cape days. I didn’t think much about them then, but the fish Mattie caught were oblong and feisty with silvery sides decorated with gold and rose spots. Their backs were golden.  They were so delicately colored that at first I didn’t know what kind of fish they were. He unhooked them, admired them, and plopped them back into the water.

I took Matthew fishing in the same dinghy when he was a small lad. We would bumble around with the outboard, catching scup and seabass and small bluefish and once a schoolie striped bass. The years have rolled by with the inexorable rhythm of a train of waves.  Seeing him standing up in the same old dinghy (a feat in itself considering how tender a craft it is), now a strapping young man capable of casting a lure for distance and accuracy, and sensing his complete absorption in the excitement of fishing in a surface-feeding school, I was touched with pride and bittersweet gladness.  But it was also a kind of Seaborn moment: While I held the tiller and looked at my son casting ably from the dinghy, I could not penetrate his thoughts. Was he as absorbed in the fishing as I thought he was, or was he irritated with me for some reason I could not fathom?

Humor me: He was thrilled with the fishing and the novelty of being towed by a catboat under sail through a school of fish, and that was enough.