Aug. 11, 1996. I stepped off the deck behind Pirateís Cove restaurant and onto the deck of Binary, a 1964 Columbia 24, hull #157. It was the first step toward a dream I had discarded long ago.
A few weeks prior, I was talking to some people at work and somehow, I got identified with sailing. After I confirmed to a woman in the group that I was, indeed, a sailor, she asked me if I wanted a sailboat. I was predictably surprised, but curious. I began cautiously asking questions.
The short story is that her husband bought the boat new, but had not used it in the last 10 years or so. He really needed to part with it, but a 30+ year bond is hard to break. I was the perfect candidate. I was a sailor and the owner new me. We worked together at my previous job.
I had two concerns: condition and cost. Iím pretty handy at repairing things, so that was the lesser issue. My bank account, decimated from trying to maintain a two income budget after my wife moved out, was finally in the black thanks to the pay increase that came with the new job. But would it support the costs of a boat? Who cares?
I went for it.
I contacted the owner, but it took a few weeks to find a weekend that we both had free. I met him at his home and he drove me to the boat. Binary floated peacefully in her slip. Her topside gelcoat was crazed, her hatches delaminating, and her portlights frosted translucent. Her teak was weathered, warped, and green with mold. We opened the companionway hatch and once the swarm of wasps came out, we went below.
She was a little dingy inside and there were high water marks a few inches up from the sole, which had a soft spot in the middle. The blue indoor/outdoor carpeting was littered with bits of varnish and veneer that had peeled off the mahogany.
I was in love.
After a cold beer and a crabcake sandwich (a free lunch!?) , we headed back to the ownerís house to inspect the remainder of the gear. The sails - a main and working jib - had been hanging in their bags and were in fine shape. There was an anchor complete with chain and line, a freshly stripped tiller, and some other odds and ends. We shook hands and loaded the gear in my pickup. I was a boat owner.
The following week was a flurry of activity. I found a used 4 hp Chrysler outboard and I bought PFDs, signaling devices, a fire extinguisher, wasp spray, and other misc. gear. I varnished the tiller every night.
Saturday dawned bright and clear and I was going sailing. I hurried to load the truck and go, so I would get to my boat before my crew. I needed time to evict the wasps, load the gear, and do some cleaning so Binary would look her "best." I made a quick stop at BOAT/US for a throwable PFD and on a whim, I picked up a chart.
I had everything ready when they arrived. Carter and Fei worked for my previous employer and their office was right down the hall from my boatís previous owner.
It's important to carefully select your crew for a "maiden voyage." There are certain traits, such as experience level that are vitally important to ensure that all goes well.
Fei and Carter had the necessary qualifications: they knew less than I did. Fei had never sailed before and Carter had been on a sailboard once or twice. I on the other hand, had been sailing for over 25 years. I knew my decisions would not be questioned.
The only catch was that with five or six exceptions, every boat I had sailed could be picked up and dropped on itís trailer and I had never captained anything bigger than an 18í day sailor. Motors and slips were also an unknown. I had "docked" a motorboat twice during the week that I learned to sail and my second landing was reminiscant of some scenes from "PT-109" and "McHale's Navy."
I had never taken a boat into or out of a slip. And because my slip was at the shore end of the pier, I would hit the stern of a boat whoís slip was on the bottom of the L. I told my crew the part about 25 years of experience and let it go at that. They had a lot to learn about sailing and I didnít want to confuse them with unnecessary details.
I got the motor started and we cast off the lines. As I backed out I realized the boat was going too slow to respond to the helm. I can't believe that I had the presence of mind to reach into the motor well, grab the top of the motor, and steer the boat while kicking the tiller back and forth with my foot.
Clear of the slip and the other boats, I spun the motor around (it doesnít have reverse), grabbed the tiller, and let out a quiet sigh of relief as I headed along parallel to the pier. I reached the end of the pier and realized that I had no idea which way to go to get to the Chesapeake Bay. I turned to starboard, made sure there were no boats nearby, and handed over the tiller while I scooted below and unrolled my new chart.
I quickly oriented myself, reclaimed the helm, and made a 180 degree turn.
We motored about a mile to a very wide place in the West River. Fei took the helm and Carter and I began to hoist the sails. I hanked them on while Carter hauled them up. We got the main up but had no battens. Item one on list which was to grow exponentially. We had the jib about halfway up when I realized something didnít look right. I looked back up at the jib and saw the sheets flying in the breeze. I had it upside-down for all the world to see. We re-did the jib, cut the motor, and set sail.
After five years, it was good to have a tiller and sheets in my hand. The breeze was light as we slowly tacked towards the Bay. Binary handled nicely, but seemed slow even in the light air. At one point, I tried to let the main out to experiment, but it would only go so far. Then I realized that the boom was still attached to the back stay.
It was a lot easier to set the sails with the boom free to swing.
The wind dropped to all but nothing. We kept going, but between dodging crab trap floats and getting stopped dead by motorboat wakes, we didnít make much headway towards the Bay. Eventually, I saw clouds to the west. The Bay has the same reputation as the Great Lakes - storms come up hard and fast. I decided to stay out in the mouth of the river where I had at least a mile of room in any direction rather than have the storm catch me in the narrow part of the river. Sure enough, the rain came, but it was a light shower. Carter, Fei, and I went below. I found I could sit on the companionway steps, reach the tiller and see out the forward portlight. The rain passed, but it left a nice breeze and we had a great time sailing along, sipping cold beer, and enjoying life.
All too soon it was time to head back. We got the motor started and the sails down and headed back to the slip. My last big test of the day - getting into the slip without hitting anything. And with no reverse, the only way to slow the boat down with the motor was to spin it around. I approached very slowly.
Luck was with me. About 40í out the motor quit and we coasted perfectly into the slip. We tied up and started closing up the boat. One of the waitresses from the restaurant leaned over the rail. She said, "In the eleven years that I have worked here I have never seen that boat go anywhere. All Iíve ever seen it do is sink - twice." That upset me a little. How could she say such things about my boat?
The previous owner told me it sank only once.
We decided to have dinner on the deck at the restaurant, right next to my boat, but we had to wait for a table. We went in and sat at the bar to celebrate the day with a couple of cold brews. The barmaid walked over to me and asked, "Are you the new owner of the boat that never goes anywhere? The one that only sinks?"
I was beginning to feel like a celebrity.
We had a nice dinner there on the deck on that warm summer evening. I could almost reach out and touch Binary from the table. She might be old, and weathered, and sort of stodgy looking with that big square cabin, but she was my boat.
Eric White, 15 Dec 97
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