I'd been working for the county for eleven years, ever since I was fresh out of college at 22. I decided to use up some of my accumulated vacation pay. To tell the truth, I was told by HR that if I didn't use up some of my accumulated time off I'd get an official censure which would count against me when the next cycle of raises came around. It was in the early spring of 2003.
Well, that sent me into a flurry of activity, delegating everything that I could. I wasn't the top guy in the IT department, but I was about number 3. I didn't handle the router infrastructure, the county firewall or the Cisco IP Phone system.
I packed a suitcase, an eight quart cooler and two big 30-gallon plastic storage containers into the back of my little red S-10 pickup before I headed off in a direction I'd never gone before--East, destined for the Atlantic coast. I had it in my mind to use the interstates to quickly reach coastal Maine, then poke my way south staying within a stone's throw of the shoreline. It was too cold to camp unprotected overnight but I took along a few things to make a roadside and fireside lunch if the mood struck me.
I started at Bangor which was just a name I'd heard and a point on the map to me. Shades of "MASH goes to Maine". It took four days of dedicated highway driving to make it there. Bucksport and Belfast gave me my first taste of the sea. And I do mean taste! The wind was up and the April spray covered everything at the docks. Still, I stood there enthralled watching the ranks of boats bobbing and tossing amid the whitecaps. The noise of the foam-covered rollers breaking against the seawall filled my senses. It was damned cold. I stopped in at a little restaurant near the wharf both to warm up and fill my belly. The special was the daily catch. That made me grin so I went for it. My plate was filled with big strips of breaded, pan-fried haddock and garlic mashed potatoes. If I ate like that every day I'd weigh over three hundred pounds. It was the best five-eighty that I paid for a dinner in a long, long time.
It was an interesting drive down the broken coast to Rockland. Not far from there lay Portland. It had a much different feel than the other seacoast towns that I'd seen, it being a college town and had an active shipping port. I stayed for a few days, not willing to make my vacation a "This is Tuesday so it must be Paris" type of whirlwind tour that would leave me with a vague nasty taste in my mouth and the dissatisfaction that I had done nothing more than watch a travelogue.
I certainly didn't know the city. I splurged on a limo to gain the services of a guide. He found us an over-the-top seafood buffet. Then, protected by our jackets, we swigged beer out of the bottle while sitting outside behind an old bar, taking in the harbor view and talking for a while. That night made it really feel like I was on a vacation.
The next morning was sunny with a little wind off the sea. I was enchanted by the flashes of sunlight glistening off the small waves in the harbor. Seeing all the sailboats in their serried ranks I began to wonder at their construction and what it would be like aboard a modern sailboat. I visited a medical clinic to get something to keep me from getting the pukes, then looked through the newspaper advertisements for a day charter. It was so confusing that I finally sucked it up and asked at the hotel's front counter what I should do. He set me up with a man with a 28-foot sailboat. Jim took day charters and fishing charters to make a living. We bargained back and forth until we reached a price of $460.00 for two days under sail and either gunk-holing or laying by overnight.
His boat was single-masted bermuda-rigged sloop. She was rigged for single-handed sailing with two power winches. At least that's what he told me. The terminology sailed right over my head until he talked me through it. I learned the difference between a line, a sheet and a stay. I learned what happens to the boom when coming about and to stay very aware of what the tiller was doing.
Before all that, though, we spent a quick 45 minutes at a grocery store picking up some grub. I picked out firm bread, sliced cheese that didn't crumble, sliced roast beef, mayo and mustard. He nodded. "Verr' good. That won't be coming back up too quick if the seas turn rough. Get nothin' heavy or greasy, mind ya." I showed him the scopolamine patches I'd gotten from the pharmacy. He smiled and seemed to relax a bit at my foresight. I bought some raisins, apples and a couple packages of instant red beans & rice that could be eaten cold out of the package. He cocked his eye at my purchase. He said, "I'll have to try some 'a that m'self." and picked up a couple different heat-n-eat food packs, including dirty rice and pinto beans & rice. We finished up by buying instant drinks--coffee, tea and hot chocolate.
Once aboard he handed me a rain suit and a hat with a long brim and a long back. "Whatever yer wearin' if it ain't waterproof it's gonna get soaked." It was good stuff--Gore-Tex. Expensive! He checked the tread on my shoes. I was wearing a pair of New Balance shoes with a high gripping coefficient. He grunted. "They're not deck boots but they'll do ya." He stowed the food while I changed to fleece unders and waterproof overs. He showed me the weather report with the water temperature--it was in the low forties while the air temperature was in the upper fifties. He handed me a self-inflating vest and looked at me real serious-like. "Buckle this on and don't take it off unless you're below deck. Even then, keep it handy!"
I was surprised at how roomy the cabin was and how many familiar conveniences I found. I was warned not to waste water as we only had eighteen gallons of drinkable water. The toilet, or 'head', was a composting unit that didn't need a sludge tank. The boat had a Volvo 18 HP diesel engine which Jim said was overpowered for the size of the boat but the next lower size was, in his words, "too puny". Besides, it was a real comfort to have all that thrust available if the sea got 'frisky'.
The engine featured a big alternator capable of fast-charging the two banks of three 12-volt batteries he kept in the bow. I noticed a boxy little kerosene heater mounted against the fore-wall of the main cabin. The brass plaque on the front said "Dickinson Marine Newport". It had two controls--fan speed and temperature. Jim turned it on low at night to take the chill off and to dry us. It was an amazingly comforting appliance. Who'd have thought to have a fireplace aboard a boat?
There was no oven, but there was a two-burner alcohol stove. It was on gimbals to keep it level even when the deck was pitching in complex gyrations.
I saw two midget bunks in the fore peak or bow, and two six-foot bunks in the main cabin that served as benches during the day. I'm five foot eight so it suited me just fine. The bench cushions were covered in a very durable synthetic canvas. It made a lot of sense since when sailing alone or with just two people, whoever was off-watch would no doubt want to bunk down close to the gangway to the cockpit.
Jim showed me how the auto-tiller worked, which used a tall blade on a pivot to drive the primitive auto-pilot. "It don't work for crap in variable winds or a gale, but just movin' along she works fine."
All in all, it was an eye-opening experience. First we sailed inside a deep inlet after which Jim took me out over the deep water where the waves were hypnotic in their rhythm, almost like a heartbeat. I could tell that I'd be doing this again.
He tossed a hook and line over the side while I manned the tiller. We had fresh baked fish a side of red beans and rice for dinner. Breakfast was oatmeal with bananas, canned milk and a little sugar. I got a few lessons on sail handling and running close-hauled to the wind.
At the end of the second day we came into dock under power as the wind was gusty and uneven. I got another lesson in line handling and how to tie off to a cleat. I helped clean up the garbage that always accumulates, then changed back to my own clothes. I wrote down the information from the labels of what he loaned me. We shook hands in parting and I handed him an extra fifty. I said, "This is for making my first sail something really enjoyable. I'll be doing this again".
It sure opened my eyes as to what sailing was about. Or so I thought.
I drove down the coast, through Portsmouth, Gloucester and Salem. The traffic was really picking up coming into Boston which really put me off, so I followed the ring road around the city. There were eight lanes in each direction! I'd driven in downtown Chicago traffic. Big city congestion didn't terrorize me but it was like eating liver--if I didn't have to do it, I damned well wouldn't. I passed by the big three--Boston, New York and Philadelphia after which I ran through the middle of Washington DC and down to Richmond. I wanted to see Portsmouth and Newport News with all the big military ships.
All that floating armor plate was intimidating as hell, which it probably had been designed for besides the obvious bit of stopping belligerent pieces of flying metal. When compared to the ranks of little sailboats I'd seen tied up further north the difference was absurd.
There was no way to follow the coast south of there as the deep inlets cut into the coastline for tens of miles. Instead I headed back south-west to Emporia to catch 95 and drove south from there. I drove every other day, spending my rest days at a library reading up on sailboat architecture and life. Eventually a day found me despicably tired of interstate driving well before it dumped me out at Savannah. I headed for Charleston to explore part of the Inter coastal waterway and the marinas that dotted its shores.
.... There is more of this story ...