Starting the New Year (Sorta) Right

Further‘s first day in her new home, back in November

Long time, no write. That’s obviously on me, but the simple fact of the matter is that there hasn’t been much Further-related about which to write lately. I moved the boat over to a new marina, which I quite like but will have to vacate come April, and since the move Further has been firmly connected to the dock nonstop.

Further in her festive Christmas lights

That changed, somewhat, yesterday. For Christmas, I had hoisted lights to the masthead, but given the mild winter we’ve been having in Annapolis thus far (knock on wood), I knew I wanted to get the boat out onto the Chesapeake Bay. Why not, right? All you gotta do is wear warm clothes, right? So I took the lights down on a New Year’s Day that was so warm, I did the work while wearing a T-shirt. That day would have been a great day to go out — brisk winds and the aforementioned warm temps — but I wasn’t going to be able to raise a sail until I’d taken down the lights.

That done, I watched the weather forecast and yesterday was looking good: temps in the low 50s, sunny, wind in the low teens. I figured it would be a great day to get out on the bay, shake off some rust and play around for a short while. And at the same time, I could swing by the fuel dock to top off my diesel tank which is starting to get low since I’ve been using it to heat Further‘s cabin.

I awoke yesterday and got to it: stowed things down below that could get tossed around, removed the tarp I had rigged up over my ripped-up dodger, removed the two sail covers (I added a length of Sunbrella fabric as added protection over the now-very-holey original sail cover) and prepped to head out.

Further‘s engine fired up on first try and hummed for the first time since November. I dropped my dock lines and backed out of the slip with no problem. And then I motored over to Annapolis Landing Marina…where I found the fuel dock closed. Shit! Oh well, I could always head around Horn Point and into Spa Creek to Annapolis City Marina and their fuel dock, right?

Well, I made my way toward the mouth of eerily empty Back Creek. It was like a ’80s TV show about a nuclear apocalypse and everyone was gone. Where there would usually be a steady stream of traffic and anchored boats, there was now, literally, no one but me and Further.

When I got to the mouth of the creek and could see out onto the bay, I was stunned that there was NO ONE out there. I figured the racing boats would be out for their weekly Sunday event, but no. Four tankers were anchored out in the middle of the bay, but other than that, not a soul in sight.

And as I got out by the Back Creek marker I learned why when a couple of splashes were blown into Further‘s cockpit by the strong northwest wind. Whoa! Bracing, to say the least. I knew there was a small-craft advisory but that’s not that big a deal, especially on the bay where the waves can’t really get big — except I realized I didn’t feel like dealing with it solo. And motoring into said wind toward Spa Creek, and then trying to tie up for fuel with the wind blowing me onto the dock, was not something I really savored. So I did a big 180 and headed back to the marina, where the wind made it a sporty venture getting tied up again by myself. But I did it, at which point I replied to a friend’s text message asking me if I wanted to crew for her to take her boat out.

Lauren is a very experienced, badass sailor (I believe she’s done the Newport-to-Bermuda singlehanded race). We had traded text messages about taking our boats out and since I decided going solo sucked I gathered my warm clothes and headed over to her marina. Two other friends of Lauren’s were going and we all headed out onto the bay.

We tucked two reefs into the mainsail and proceeded toward the bridge aboard her 34-foot boat. And we had a grand time, just putting along. A couple of other boats came out behind us and screamed past, their full assortment of sails rigged and drawing on the strong wind. And the dinghy racers were finally out in full force, flying around the buoys in the harbor in front of the Naval Academy.

We were out and about for about four hours and it was wonderful. It was educational to see some of the systems Lauren has on her boat to enable her singlehanding, and I plan to steal some of those ideas. It was also a treat (and a bit chastening) to realize just how big the difference is in handling a 34-foot boat versus handling my 42-foot boat. For instance, when Lauren wanted to trim the main a bit to enable us to point a little higher, I was able to grab the boom and pull it inboard, thereby making it easier for her to winch the sheet tight. And when I lowered the sail at the end of the day, grabbing it and flaking it on the boom was easy compared to the wrestling match that is required to get Further‘s sail secured.

A foggy New Year’s Eve day on Back Creek

So…it was a good day — I got out on the water and learned some things — and it was a not-so-good day — I was humbled enough that I didn’t go out solo, and I couldn’t fill up my fuel tank. I guess that’s par for the course when it comes to sailing: good AND bad, all in good measures.

But it was a gloriously sunny day and I was sailing so…that’s a win.

Decision Made

Well, after much brain-wracking and many stressful moments, I have come to a decision about what to do next. And the answer is this: I will not be going south to the islands this winter. It breaks my heart but the bottom line is that I just don’t feel I’m ready. Yes, I can do the sailing and managing the boat, but I feel like maybe going after just one year aboard my Further is a bit too soon. I feel I need some more experience at that managing-the-boat bit before I could cruise comfortably and calmly. And doing it wound up like a spring is not how I want to go voyaging.

In the meantime, I will remain here in Annapolis. I will be taking a position with a local company (more on that when things firm up) and I will be moving to a new marina farther down Back Creek — one with plenty of water beneath the keel (and a nicer shower, and even a washer-dryer). I’ll miss it back here in Jones Cove where it is so peaceful and natural, but as evidence of why I need to leave: I’m in the mud once again. I took Further out today (fun times in a booming 20-knot-plus wind) and just barely had enough water to get back into the slip afterwards. So…it’s time.

I look forward to spending more time in this wonderful town and I look forward to getting things aboard Further more shipshape. I’m already compiling a monstrous to-do list that I will dive into ASAP, making sure everything works as it should — and learning how to fix it myself for the inevitable breakage in the future. And finally, I look forward to getting myself more shipshape also so that when the time comes I can head to sea aboard my own vessel with a confidence that lets me smile all the way.

Decision Time

So now we come to the crux move. It’s decision time. And as those of you who know me can attest, I torture myself over personal decisions. I get there, eventually, but it’s never easy. Here’s where I’m at right now:

Further in the boat lift headed back to the water after being treated and released by the boat docs

Further is back in the water after a few days on the hard having the shaft seal and two through-hulls replaced. So I am mobile once again. And the Salty Dawg Rally, for which I am already registered and paid, is scheduled to depart Hampton, Virginia (at the lower end of Chesapeake Bay), tomorrow morning, and there’s no way I can get from Annapolis to Hampton by then (it’s about a 20-hour trip on the boat) and I’d want to spend a day or two in that area resupplying before heading offshore, so that’s out, right?

Well, the weather router who does forecasts for the rally said conditions over the weekend did not bode well for a Saturday departure and instead advocated leaving Monday afternoon. That’s doable for Further and I. And even if it isn’t, we could still head out to sea later in the week or next weekend or even later in the month.

But here’s the thing: I’m nervous. Scared, even. Yeah, I said it. I’m scared.

No, I’m not scared about the boat sinking or dying or hurricanes or anything like that. Further is a sound, ocean-crossing vessel, and the weather can be forecast (to a point, but to a point where severe stuff can be dodged over the course of a weeklong trip).

I’m nervous about all the things that can go wrong that are way less than sinking but still significant. Things that are significant financially, to be blunt.

The canvas dodger, which protects the cabin, is disintegrating after many years in the sun. I haven’t been able to get the rig (the mast and the shrouds that hold it up) checked. The jib has some tears in its edge. The engine runs fine but it’s old. The newly replaced shaft seal still leaks—but it will for a little while until the flange seals with use. And I wonder about just how much it will cost to live down in the Caribbean.

Every single one of those fears has a rational counter. I don’t need a dodger, and I now own a heavy-duty sewing machine so I can patch the holes (once I learn how to use the damned machine). The rig is and has been solid, as far as I can tell. I have some sail tape (and the aforementioned sewing machine) with which I could fix the jib (not that I know how). The engine, as I said, runs fine. The flange on the shaft seal will seal soon. And the guy who redid Further’s electrical system, a local boat-whisperer who knows EVERYTHING about boats and cruising, remarked the other day that living in the islands is, “on the cheap.” Hell, I even have a willing—nay, gung-ho—crew rarin’ to go.

So why the fear? The answer: I don’t know. I’ve always been one to jump at chances. Case in point: I got offered the job in Alaska on a Thursday; I was on the road on Monday and in Anchorage on Wednesday. That’s impetuous. And I didn’t just visit Montana, I moved there.

So again: why the fear? Is it age? Could be. A lot of people ask me how I can afford to do such a trip and the answer is: if I were a typical modern American, I can’t. I’ve spent a significant chunk of my retirement on chasing this boat dream. And I haven’t worked in two-and-a-half years. Having some money coming in rather than just going out would be a really nice change.

To that end, there is one job opportunity here in Annapolis that is intriguing. (The interesting job in D.C. about which I wrote earlier evaporated; my friend and former coworker found what he called “a slam-dunk candidate” who got the gig.) But there is a yacht brokerage agency is looking to pay someone for some office/marketing help—someone to help with their website and social media and such—while also training that person to become a broker. I have no interest in being a used-car salesman, but such a situation might be a way for me to break into the marine industry. This agency believes I might be that person and wants to talk later today, and I am inclined to listen.

Along another line: earlier this week I sent out an invoice for some freelance copywriting I did for another former coworker of mine. That felt good: doing the work and then issuing an invoice. It was just a few hundred dollars but still, it’s a start. Or it could be. Do I stay here in “society” and try to establish a freelance career? If I could get that going, that would be something I could do from anywhere—say, on a boat in the Caribbean. Do I stay in the States (if they still exist after Tuesday’s election) and address the issues/concerns I have about Further while also building up my cruising kitty and establishing an income source for the future, all while living in a place I like and where I have a lot of friends, and then go next year? It’s a compelling argument.

And then there’s this fabulous quote from late actor Sterling Hayden. The guy was a movie star, but before that he grew up in a rough-and-tumble orphan’s existence in Massachusetts and Maine, and he became a Grand Banks fisherman and then a sea captain. As a captain, he even ran guns for what was then the CIA into what was then Yugoslavia during World War II. In short, the guy was a badass. But he has this fabulous quote to which I return again and again:

To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise, you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen who play with their boats at sea…”cruising” it is called. Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about.

Granted, that’s easy to say when you’re a movie star and can fly back to Hollywood to make a cool hundred grand in a month (exorbitant wages in those days) whenever you’re broke, but the sentiment remains. (And the continuation of that quote, the first one on this page, is equally brilliant.)

But all the signs I get from the universe tell me to go. I even changed my phone’s lock screen from a photo of the late, great Spoondog to an exhortation that reads, “Life will only change when you become more committed to your dreams than you are to your comfort zone.”

And that’s what it all comes down to: stay in my comfort zone or chase my dream. In years past, I’d have already leapt. And I started my leap with this dream. But for some reason I’ve paused at the end of the diving board. Whether I take the plunge or tiptoe back to the pool deck will be determined in the next few hours. Stay tuned.