It’s been a tough summer and I only got out about 5 times all summer, but this was one of the memorable ones. I was out for a sail with my daughter Maggie (9) and her cousin Jack (10). We sailed over to Egg Island and anchored for a bit while we swam and explored the island. The sun was shining and the wind was blowing a brisk 20-25kts.
At one point, a power boat cruised by my starboard with the bow pointed up into the sky and the stern buried beneath a wall of wake. I shook my head, but kept my thoughts to myself. Maggie was standing on the bow, hugging the mast, in her own world singing a song. My ever-observant nephew Jack looked at me and asked, “Why don’t you like powerboats?”
“Well Jack,” I started. “It’s not that I don’t like powerboats. I like all boats. They all have their purpose. What bothers me is people out on the water that either don’t know what they are doing or simply have no consideration for other people.”
“Is that why you shook your head at that guy?” He asked.
“Well, I guess so.” I replied not wanting to look like the cranky sailor stereotype. “I mean…that guy is doing 2 things. First, his boat is pushing water instead of gliding through it or over it. He’s basically burning as much gas as possible. With another couple RPM’s, he could plane the boat off and solve that problem. He also passed about 30 feet away from us creating the largest wake the boat possibly can.” By this time, our boat was rocking violently further illustrating my point.
Jack looked at the power boater and nodded in understanding.
“So as far as powerboats go,” I continued, “it’s not so much the boat as it is the person driving it. It is more likely to see a clueless powerboater than it is to see a clueless sailor. I think it’s probably just because you don’t really need any special knowledge to take a boat out. You just turn the key and go.”
Jack absorbed it all in and nodded again. I could see my point was made and I was happy with the way in which I made it. Eventually, we sailed back to my mooring and packed up the boat for the day. What a beautiful sail. The kids scurried around and helped while I barked orders in my best pirate voice. “Arrrrrgh yah scurvy dog. Taut that line and make it fast to the port cleat before I run ya through!”
In between my surly commands, I heard a sail flapping in the wind behind me and turned to see. About 100 feet away, there was what looked to be a brand new Stur-Dee Boat catboat. The hull was beautifully shining and the sail was a crisp royal blue. On the transom hung a small Honda outboard which was also very clearly new. In the boat sat an older gentleman (70-ish) at the tiller and a younger couple (in their 20’s) as passengers. The sail was luffing in the wind and the boat seemed to be hard aground. The captain was fumbling around with some lines in the cockpit but did not seem to know which one to pull. Shortly thereafter, she seemed to be break free of the ocean floor and start sliding rapidly sideways in our direction. About half way to us, the sail puffed and caught the breeze, but it only made the boat slide sideways faster. Quickly, I jumped up on my gunwale and cupped my hands to my mouth.
“Put your board down!” I yelled.
With the commotion of the flapping sail, they clearly could not hear me. I yelled louder, “Put your center board down!”
The young couple looked up at me, but the old man at the helm just continued his blank, panicked stare. I turned around and told the kids to sit down in the cockpit and took a position on the port bow to try to fight off the inevitable collision. Marsaili was pointed into the wind, and thankfully right into the oncoming boat. The point of my bow took the 14′ catboat directly amidships. I could see a large dent and crack in the brand new, oak rubrail on the Stur-dee and feared similar damage to Marsaili.
The small boat came along my port side and I promptly placed a foot on her deck to try to keep her from slamming my hull in the waves. Our masts and standing rigging danced a short distance away threatening to entangle.
I started the dialog with as much patience as I could muster. “I was telling you to put your centerboard down. You’re only going to move sideways without it.”
The odd thing here is that the old man seemed to ignore me and to almost be upset with me. The young couple seemed embarrassed and hung on my every word. I considered jumping aboard and giving them a brief Stur-Dee Cat sailing lesson, being a former Stur-Dee owner, but I had passengers aboard that needed my supervision.
I bent over to catch the old man’s attention. “Hey! Are you listening?” I asked. “We still have some work to do here. Do you know how to sail?”
The old man looked up and nodded at me as if annoyed at the question.
I said, “OK,” and I shoved the boat off with my foot. She was pointed into the wind and with some simple reverse steering could have easily back her past Marsaili and sailed off in either direction. Unfortunately, he and I did not have the same plan in mind. He promptly pushed the till away and slammed the boat directly back into mine.
“OK,” I commanded. “Clearly you are not sure what you’re doing and now your’re going to follow my directions. When I push you off, I need you to steer the boat in reverse so that you stay pointed into the wind. DO NOT TRY TO SAIL until you are well clear of my stern. Understand?”
The captain and his now thoroughly embarrassed crew all nodded in unison. At this point, I had more faith in the crew than the captain. I shoved the catboat off again and the old man navigated free of Marsaili like a pro. He let the bow swing around and again they were sailing. Off into the sunset and we all lived happily….”Wait. What the hell is he doing?” I mumbled.
“That looks like one clueless sailor,” said Jack standing behind me.
The old man had managed to sail right back onto the sandbar he was stuck on originally and again was hard aground. The sail was luffing hard which made communication difficult. The concerned passengers were now staring at me hoping for some guidance. The look on their face clearly said, “Mister can you please get us the hell out of this situation without embarrassing the hell out of our poor grandpa?”
I waited until the sail paused luffing for a moment and started shouting orders.
“Listen to me and do as I say! Pull the board up!”
The crew looked at the captain for approval. They hesitated. I am guessing they were pretty nervous about pulling the board up and starting the whole crash course over again.
“C’mon!” I shouted. “Pull it up! Now!”
The young male passenger stood up and pulled on the line attached to the centerboard. The boat again began its slide sideways toward Marsaili. The crew both looked to me.
“Now put the board down!” I shouted emphatically pointing both fingers down toward the water.
The crew member pushed the board down into the water and the little Stur-Dee Cat took off like the beautiful sailor she is. This time, she stayed her course into deeper water and over to the mooring field across the bay. As they were sailing off, the male crew member put his hands together, nodded to me, and mouthed the word “Thank you.” I waved back and continued to pack up Marsaili.
Jack and Maggie sat in awe. In awe by the whole situation and in awe at how aggressive I was with them. I explained the situation and how I felt that I needed to take control. Jack made his way up to the bow and assessed the damage. We found none, thankfully.
“Yup,” Jack said. “That was one clueless sailor.”
“I’d say so,” I replied.
After the situation was over, I could not get over a couple of things.
1. I never saw the guy again. If that was me in that situation, I would have sailed out to where there was some sea room. I would have dropped the sail, and I would have motored back over to the people at the mooring and apologized profusely offering to pay for any damages.
2. The guy had a motor that whole time. There were a number of occasions that he could have fired that thing up and saved himself a whole heap of embarrassment.