Sailing a boat
The first time I attempted rigging out a sailboat was in 1959.
It was at my uncle’s summer house on Greenwich Bay. My sister Janie, myself and a random beach kid — in July heat and slack wind — got the sail up the mast on a sailing dinghy called What, Me Worry? My sister was the brains of the operation, and we succeeded in at least getting the boat into the bay but the slack wind got us back on the beach as we baked in the heat. The second time I attempted to sail a boat was 11 years later at Payne’s Dock at New Harbor, Block Island. It was a moment in time where, with some desire and a little bit of instruction, my gears shifted in a big way. We can all identify with having such a moment; it’s what we do with it when this happens to us — we could even call this fate or destiny.
It happened on a day I was looking to burn up the clock before I went to work at Smuggler’s, and there was a guy renting a Sunfish at the dock. The guy said, “Pull this, push this and don’t hit anything.” Without a clue about what I was doing, me and the Sunfish went tearing around the mooring field in front of The Oar — I managed to not hit any boats. The learning curve was vertical. Two months later I bought my first sailboat, which I learned to sail up in the bay in Bullock’s Cove — 50 years later I’m still at it. Back in those early days sailing became a constant, non-negotiable part of my life. It is what it is.
I’ve always believed that whatever stuff we have must be used until it’s worn out and is no longer useful. Cars, clothes, guitars, tires, books, sails, surfboards, lines, sheets, halyards, charts, dog leashes, record players, records; everything listed here has been used to a careworn state—it’s part of my Yankee heritage and my dad’s old-school influence. For example, one day my brother and I were wrestling and I tossed him across the living room and he landed on my Shelby guitar. As a result, the neck got sprung from the body. I fixed it with a bead of crazy glue and played the thing for 10 more years. I let Block Island’s Jeff Cowles borrow it for a couple of years and then sold it. In ’72, I had a record player that a college girlfriend gave me. It took about a half hour to warm up before a record could be played. Furthermore, in college I drove a car that ran on four of six cylinders — needed to be jumpstarted in reverse — and had too many bald tire blowouts to count. I just don’t hold with the idea of planned obsolescence. It simply makes no sense. Stuff is to be scratched, dented, broken and scuffed; that means it’s been used. The aforementioned premise on stuff pertains to all of my sailboats from the past, and my current sailboat. (I know, you thought I went off on a rambling tangent — right? Just hang with me.)
My sailboat gets lots of use year-round — Reverie stays in the water all winter. It’s my place to get the wind in my face, read books, write, and sail Narragansett Bay. I call Reverie my “shed.” Over the past 15 years, I’ve done my best to keep my boat looking respectable; most people take pride in how their boat looks. I haul my boat every two years at Clark Boat Yard in Jamestown, and get her all prettied up for the season. At this stage of the game in my geezer years, it’s not so much how good the boat will look, it has more to do with looking forward to something. It has to do with anticipating another season. It has to do with sailing. It has to do with living. Most importantly, for me, it has to do with still being able to single-hand the boat.
My sail boat ownership motto has always been “maximum usage, minimal dollars spent.” Subsequently, I only replace things that absolutely need to be replaced. This year it became apparent that I needed to replace my headsail — a 135 furling Genoa. While sailing in early May, I noticed that some seams were splitting from the last six years of usage. UV rays eventually weaken and fray the stitching. Moreover, the sail itself gets blown out and worn out from the impact of the wind and sun. I was joking to a friend that the 135 was so worn out that “I could read a newspaper through it.” A sailing bud and I dropped the sail one day and applied some sail tape, and the 135 made it through the season; two weeks ago, I called a sailmaker I know from Jupiter Beach, Florida, and had him cut me a brand-new sail — it was time. Now, I’ll have not only a prettier boat next season, but the performance of my boat will be greatly enhanced. Reverie has a powerful rig and she’ll be a blast to sail with her new 135 Genoa. Win, win!
A friend of mine named Bill Dunleavey is a sailor of the finest kind. He gives free sailing lessons in a Sunfish at Payne’s Dock. (See “The Johnny Appleseed of Sailing,” in my archive.) Bill takes people out sailing and they have an opportunity to experience a moment, perhaps one similar to the one I alluded to earlier. Finally, if that experience is seized, it may send another person off on a lifetime passion of sailing a boat.