S/V Reverie

Fri, 01/06/2023 - 11:15am

I reported to work at the Point Judith ferry docks on 12/23/2022 at 0600. As I drove my car by the stern of the Anna C to punch in at the winch house, I saw that the bulkhead was breached; the tide would be high at 0730. This scenario was hinting at Hurricane Sandy tide levels. Not good. I went to the freight shed with the guys and we watched the tide rise and assessed the wind-flipped objects in the freight yard. As expected, the wind had been airing up from the southeast throughout the night and a big heave was on, with an excessive incoming tide. Talking with the freight guys, captains, and mates it was apparent that this would be an interesting day as the winds shifted to the southwest.
Meanwhile, over in Newport Harbor my sailboat Reverie was in the lee of the howling southeast wind; however, things would be changing when the wind shifted. I figured that when the wind came southwest it would crank perhaps 35 to 40 miles per hour for a few hours and then come west. Moreover, my bigger concern was when the wind would come west, which was the direction that Reverie was pointing—that’s a daunting winter wind in Newport Harbor. (I’ve wintered my boat in this harbor for 15 years and know this to be true.) Subsequently, two days before the storm I had put extra snubbers on my lines to reduce the loads on my cleats as she hobby-horsed into the fetch from the
west. My friends, Mark Holden and Harry Sherman, would keep an eye on her when the wind clocked southwest and then west. I had doubled all of my boat’s lines and put out extra fenders and felt confident of the quick wind shift.
There is an old Yiddish saying, “We plan; God laughs.” Every sailor I know walks with some trepidation regarding weather and how things can go quickly sideways on any kind of boat. It doesn’t matter if you’re a big shot with a fancy rig or a guy with a small leaky wooden rowboat; we all drink from the same reservoir filled with humility and have tasted a slice of humble pie. We can plan all we want and give it our best shot with our boats, but when the wind jacks, the seas kick up, lines part and things go all to hell, we realize how insignificant we and our plans are. God, indeed laughs, and he must’ve been guffawing and chortling when this holiday storm hit the entire country.
The wind did come southwest as was predicted. But, it didn’t shift after a few hours as I had hoped. Instead, it blew southwest for 10 hours at 55-plus miles per hour. I received a video of Reverie getting righteously hammered at around three in the afternoon. The video was violent but her breast lines on the port side of the boat were holding steady. Again, my friends were keeping an eye on the boat and I figured the wind would clock by four or five at the very latest, and she would just ride out the storm. (At this point, God must’ve been belly laughing.)
The second video of Reverie came when I got home for supper. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I showed my wife and she said, “I’m sorry.” She knew that the boat would be structurally compromised and also knew that words sometimes just don’t work. I was depressed. My friends Mark and Harry went above and beyond to keep the boat secure; however, they were out-gunned.
When the wind blows from the southwest in Newport Harbor, a considerable amount of fetch can travel from Fort Adams. The fetch creates bigger waves as the wind increases and that was my boat’s undoing. There were three- to four-foot waves bashing the boat’s port bow, and stressing her lines. The bow cleats were ripped out of the boat as she was diving bows under for eight hours. She was shipping a prodigious amount of water; my new bilge pump couldn’t keep up with the violent thrashing. To say that Reverie, Mark, and Harry, took a beating is an understatement, and I’m grateful no one got hurt. I owe these guys, but they know I would’ve helped them if the shoe was on the other foot—humility. Moreover, when the insurance surveyor saw my boat, he immediately saw that she was a total loss. This storm was an anomaly for Newport Harbor and a benchmark storm: the excessive wind, tide, fetch, and
duration were duly noted by sailors.
In 1980, my dad and I were blasting back and forth between the east wall at Point Judith and the channel entrance to Galilee Harbor. We were sailing a small Sunfish back and forth, charging up wind and down wind in a sweet summer southwest breeze. We would trade off manning the tiller and trimming the sail while simply having a blast; just a father and son aimlessly cranking upwind and downwind for hours. I think back to that day, and feel as that kind of sailing with my dad was the essence of the sport and my blueprint for sailing any boat I’ve ever owned. My brother and I used to call him while we sailed our boats in the bay, and report to him of the conditions and I could tell that the guy got a
kick out of his sons messing around in their sailboats. My love of sailing began in 1957 when I rigged up a sailing pram at my uncle’s house in Greenwich Bay, and I’m glad my dad was the nexus for that experience.
My dad loved sailing on Reverie, as did my late friend Tim Philbrick, and sailors Ray Johnson, Booth Roberts, John Rooney, and my wife Cindy. In addition to my 16 years of extensive sailing memories, I also have written over 200 columns on my boat. I also wrote my novella “Tangled in the Web,” on Reverie. I called her my Shed. I’ll miss this great old sailboat and mourn her loss. On Christmas Day I was in the dumps, and I said to my wife: “I think my sailing days are over, maybe it’s time to walk away.”
“What will you do?” she said.
“Um, maybe fish with my brother on his boat, or you know, get a hobby?”
“A hobby? I don’t think so, husband.”
I could sense her eyes rolling. My wife knows her husband like a book. Finally, life moves on and to windward we go. In fact, I’m off to meander around a boatyard after I submit this column: maybe a boat will find me.
Happy New Year, from the Ferry Dock Scribbler.