No Respect

By Tom Neale, 12/10/2009


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If Rodney Dangerfield thought that he got no respect, it’s a good thing he was never on my boat.  I “get respect” about as much as a bear gets toilet paper in the woods.  Here’s the problem.  I cruise on a 53-foot motorsailer. It has a ketch rig and it looks like a big old slow sailboat.  I guess part of the problem is that a lot of folks don’t know much about this motorsailer thing.  It’s a boat with a big motor which can also sail but, at least with my boat, was built with the idea that the motor will usually be used as the main propulsion with the sails assisting (if I’m not too lazy to put them up). This means that the “sailboat” looking thing can actually go a lot faster than most sailboats under power, and it has a lot more power if it’s running against current or wind.

Tom Slows to a Crawl to allow a slow pass

To make matters worse, a few years ago I put a new engine in my motorsailer. It’s a 200 HP Yanmar. To make matters even worse, the guys who put it in, Marine Pro from Cocoa, Florida, also put on a bigger propeller tweaked out just right. This means that my motorsailer will go a lot faster with a lot more push than even most other motorsailers. Without even trying, she’ll cruise all day at better than 10 MPH under power alone. But to look at my boat, nobody knows it. I feel like a NASCAR star would feel if everybody thought he drove a trolley. I’ve been cruising in a slow boat for years. I’ve been passed by everything from canoes to rowboats. This plays havoc with a fragile ego like mine. It’s not that I like to brag about my new found “speed.” I wouldn’t think of ever doing anything like that. It’s just that sometimes I wish just a little bit that somebody would know that I’m going a little faster than I have been the rest of my slow life.

Take passing in the ICW, for example. Usually we go faster than not only sailboats, but also many trawlers. So we’ll do the polite thing and call the trawler ahead on the VHF and ask permission to pass, suggesting that if he’ll slow down a bit we can slow down and still get around easily, but without throwing him a wake. Most people use this procedure as a courtesy. But sometimes we see the couple up on the fly bridge of the trawler look back and down at us, look at each other, probably saying something like maybe, “Who does he think he is? Another sailboater who doesn’t have a clue? After all, we’re a trawler, he can’t pass us”. Then they ignore us, don’t even answer the radio call, and don’t slow down. So then we try the appropriate horn signal, and that gets no results. Sometimes they even speed up. Eventually they may say, “Come on by if you want, but we don’t need to slow down and you certainly aren’t going fast enough to bother us.” As we steam past, they frown and raise their noses haughtily in the air, until they see the wake roiling out behind us and start yelling to each other to secure the decks and turn on the stabilizers. (The wake really isn’t that bad. I like to exaggerate about my wake too. But I do hate to throw even a small wake near another boat.) Now this isn’t all folks on trawlers--most are quite understanding. But all it takes is one or two during the day to pulverize my already fragile ego.

Fast Boat can drop to dead slow and still pass

Some sailboats are even worse. We do the appropriate courteous communications, but the person at the helm will look back and say something to his/her mate--maybe something like this: “Who the heck do they think they are? They’re just another sailboat. What—do they think they’re going to a fire or something? We can go just as fast. We don’t need to slow down.” They wave at me to come on around, sometimes as they nudge their throttle up a notch, and it happens all over again.

And then there are the bridges that only open at certain scheduled times. I see the bridge up ahead and I call the bridge tender and tell him I’ll be there for, say, the 3:00 opening. He looks down from his bridge house and says, “Uh, are you that sailboat I see way back there?” I tell him that he’s probably looking at me but that I’m not a sailboat, but a motorsailer.

“What’s that?” I hear back over the VHF.

“It means I have an unusually big motor and I’m going a lot faster than a sailboat and I’ll be there on time.”

I usually hear back something like, “No sailboat I’ve ever seen could get from where you are to this bridge in time. You’ll have to wait for the next opening at 4:00.”

So then I try to explain that I am going that fast, that my two GPS chart plotters and my radar all say I’ll be there in time and that I’m making 12 MPH and that I will be there on time. At this point he often won’t reply or maybe he’ll say something like, “We’ll see.” And more than once, a bridge tender has told me, well in advance of the scheduled opening time, that he will not open the bridge for me because he just knows I won’t be there on time. This forces me to put on the brakes. This is even more humiliating because “Chez Nous” with her full keel, ballast, 300 gallons of water and 335 gallons of diesel and 12 KW generator and 200 hp Yanmar puts on brakes about as well as a freight train racing down the mountain side on a greased rail.

Tom’s Tips About Courtesy While Passing

1. The same boat can make very different wakes in different channels.

2. For example, a narrow channel with steep walls is likely to exaggerate a boat’s wake even though, at the same speed, in wider waters, the boat would create very little wake.

Click Here for More Tips

Of course, plenty of folks would ask: Well Tom, what are you in such a hurry for? You’re supposed to be cruising. You know, relaxed, laid back, and not in a rush. They’re right of course; they’ve got a very good point, but it isn’t that simple for me.

In reply I’d say, “Yep, you’re exactly right. But it’s not that I’m in a hurry, I just want to reach the next anchorage before dark.” There’s nothing relaxed or laid back about standing on the bowsprit trying to pierce the blackness with a spotlight, yelling back and forth to your wife who’s having to give all 101% of her concentration to the danger signal beeping from the depth finder and trying to figure out whether all those targets on the radar are a rapidly approaching fleet of bass boats or extra fat seagulls.

Also, I may be figuring that if I don’t make that next bridge by 3:00 I’m going to miss a bridge down the way which is going to go on rush hour lock down from 4:30 to 6:00 and then I’ll be running in the dark for a long long time. Or maybe, I’m noticing some misty fog beginning to rise from the warm water in the chilling night air and I’m really anxious to reach that next anchorage. Or I might be worrying about the fact that if I don’t get through a certain creek by high tide I’m going to have to wait for high tide the next day and by that time a nor’easter will be brewing and I won’t be able to get out into the ocean in order to get around an ICW bridge that’s going to be closed for construction for a whole week.

I guess it’s just my fate to be the odd duck. If I had a pure powerboat maybe I wouldn’t have this problem and my fragile pride would suffer less. But I don’t have enough sense or enough money to get another boat. I’ve thought about taking my Sawzall and cutting down my masts. Then bridge tenders and other skippers might be more likely to believe me. But I’d miss many good things that I really like about sailboats—like being able to romp along under full sail out in the Atlantic and being able to bring in all those distant TV stations with that antenna way up there. So I think I’ll rig some contraption to make something that looks like diesel exhaust billow out of the top of my masts. Maybe then I’ll get some respect. But maybe not.

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Copyright 2004-2009 Tom Neale