is good," Mark Twain said, "but finding out is better." I doubt he was
talking about marine toilets or deck washdown pumps, but I think it
applies just the same. Education has a certain consistency. On boats,
as in life, it's often humiliating, sometimes frightening, frequently
exhilarating--but always necessary.|
gone from a 34-foot production fiberglass ex-racing sloop to a 45-foot
semi-custom steel-hull cutter that's already been around the world.
Everything about her asks: I'm ready for anything, are you?
So you can
see how the learning curve might resemble an Olympic ski jump.
Sometimes we nail the landing, other times . . . the agony of defeat.
That we have to point our skis down the hill, though, is irrefutable.
Which is why it made perfect sense to go sailing last weekend, despite
dire predictions of record cold, snow in April and wind blowing half a
working on the boat all winter, making obvious upgrades, figuring out
what systems worked and what didn't. We knew we had heat,
refrigeration, a working stove, a fine-running engine and happily
charged batteries. Despite our initial terror at a plumbing system with
no fewer than five Y-valves and several dangerous looking 90-degree
angles, Johnny had spent several hours communing with the system and at
last understood its mysteries. So we had a working head. And, after a
three-hour chess game with the Bimini and the dodger one Sunday
afternoon, we had shelter from the spray and cold.
still only supposing, though, that it would all come together, and that
the boat would sail as well and would be as comfortable as we'd hoped.
Finding out would be better.
was a little dicey; first of all, there were two inches of fresh snow,
which did give one pause. Then there was a great deal of enthusiastic
swearing up forward as Johnny went 10 rounds with the bow light
fixture, which needed a new bulb ("Now I see why they wire-tied it in
place," he grumbled after a half-hour battle with a recalcitrant gasket
on the fixture); we had to figure out why the propane solenoid suddenly
kept shutting off (too small a fuse) and why the galley sink was
suddenly leaking like Scooter Libby (loose hose clamps and yet another
uncooperative gasket); and we had to time our launch from the slip in a
lull--when it was blowing 15 rather than 25. But finally, whoosh, there
we were, airborne. We unfurled the smaller of the jibs, and after a
brief but exciting few moments when the diesel heater shut itself down
with a great gout of nasty smoke (evidently, despite the manufacturer's
cheery claims to the contrary, the stove cannot tolerate a heeling
angle up to 15 degrees), we were flying, headed for Thomas Point and
the Rhode River.
nervous hen I kept checking the bilges and through-hulls, figuring that
the best surprise is no surprise, but after a while I realized that
inasmuch as an inanimate object can transmit a feeling, this boat was
as happy to be away from the dock as we were. She romped on a tight
reach in 25 to 30 knots of wind, and we leaned back and let ourselves
smile at the cold spring sun, at the rare sight of gannets so far from
the sea, gliding on their black-tipped wings, and at our good fortune
to be right there.
It is true
that the mercury fell to the 20s that night, a record that day in
April. The stars glittered more than shone, although it was too cold on
deck to spend much time contemplating the difference. The next day,
when the learning curve started all over again, we managed to pull up
several pounds of Rhode River mud with the anchor chain as we
discovered that, despite its physical presence, the deck washdown was
there only in spirit.
that seemed to matter too much, though. We may not have nailed a
perfect jump, but sometimes perfection is just a tyrant; it can make
you stay stuck in the slip forever just thinking about its demands.
Learning lies in something less than perfect, in the trying. That's
what I suppose, anyway. Finding out will be better.