Getting Out Of Dodge
By Douglas Bernon
June 21, 2000
Hadley's Harbor, Massachusetts
Two weeks after we moved aboard; ten years, one day, and many dreams after Bernadette and I became engaged in a goat pasture just outside of Lautro on the Greek island of Crete; and several months past the age my father was when bad genes and worse habits knocked him over for good, I slipped the mooring lines, Bernadette swung Ithaka's bow around, and just past 8:00 a.m. on June 12, we chugged out of Newport's increasingly full summer harbor. A few minutes later, with Fort Adams off our port beam, we raised the main, then the staysail, then the Yankee, headed into Narragansett Bay, and faced a northeaster that didn't know it wasn't supposed to be there this time of year. But that was all just fine, because after all the work and planning, we'd finally gotten out of Dodge. We were cruising.
Each of us marks the passage of time in personal ways. This was made clear to me as I spent part of the first afternoon making room on the ship's built-in GPS for our first waypoints to the Elizabeth Islands, Massachusetts. The Back family, who'd cruised this boat from Capetown, South Africa; to Brazil; through the Caribbean; and up to the States, had pretty well filled the system, an older model that remembers only 150 waypoints. While at first I was deleting robotically, I slowed down to admire where the Backs had been and what they'd accomplished. It felt odd to be the tide that was erasing their footprints on the GPS, but such is the nature of making this boat our own and making our voyage begin. However, we chose not to erase the subtle pencil marks we found by the companionway ladder, the place on Ithaka where Gary and Bridgette, two proud parents, had chronicled the growth of their three young sons.
For Bernadette and me, our first official day of cruising was full. Yes, we had 25 knots on the nose, pouring rain and fog. Yes, the radar was fluky. Yes, the brand-new engine water-temperature gauge didn't work. Yes, the throttle cable kept loosening. Yes, four ports leaked. Yes, yes. yes. But it didn't matter, because we'd started the first leg of our journey. We'd left Newport. And just as importantly, I'd caught a fish, which in the realm of major life events eclipsed the thrill in college of finally having a reason to take a three-year-old condom out of my wallet.
Bernadette has been bugging me that there isn't enough room on the boat for her stuff. She claims I'm part Labrador retriever and every time I return to the boat I'm carrying some crucial item she mislabels "not necessary." This refrain is sung often, especially regarding various gizmos in general, and an increasing stash of fishing paraphernalia in particular.
Bernadette admits she loves eating fish, and at home and in restaurants I've witnessed her unhesitating willingness to tear their butter-covered bodies to shreds with her bare teeth, but she claims she doesn't want to watch them die for her benefit. (As my grandmother said of dollars, "What? You think they grow on trees?") I've been warning her, however, that whenever I land a big one, to bring it aboard safely, I may have to subdue it first with a harpoon.
"Right, bubba," she says. "You're a regular Ahab."
She may mock me, but I've been reading the fisherman's bible, written by Scott and Wendy Bannerot. Their 418-page opus, The Cruiser's Handbook of Fishing, with such discussions as "Fishing Success Under Sail," "Attracting Fish to Your Boat," and "Gathering By Hand and with Simple Tools" has been my inspiration. For those of us who are fully committed, the Bannerots have a chapter entitled "Modifying Your Vessel For Fishing." This is the chapter, I suspect, that most worries my Commodore.
So there we were, beating along at 7.5 knots, watching various parts of our boat leak, and every ten minutes I'm pulling the cord of my yo-yo hand line, which is trolling a yellow, soft, plastic octopus skirt with an in-line egg sinker and double mustad 7982 stainless hooks. I'm thinking: Say your prayers, fishies, here comes the bass assassin. Here comes the bass assassin. For quite a few hours, the only tugs on the line were from me on the boat end. But as we approached the island of Cuttyhunk, I felt Ithaka slow, as if some mammoth gravitational force was pulling us backwards toward Newport.
I pulled the line in hand over hand. To my astonishment, at the end was a 28-gillion pound, 112-foot bluefish. (The accompanying picture by my wife is completely out of scale.) Totally unprepared for this success, I handed the line to Bernadette — who only agreed to hold it as long as she didn't have to actually look at the fish — and I jumped below to fetch the vodka to pour into his gills and effect an internally marinated and merciful end. Heart pounding, I grabbed the Absolute Citron instead of the cheap stuff. The Fish and I each had a swig. I survived. He didn't. At dinner that night, Bernadette noted that I should savor every bite, because based on the cost of all our fishing gear, each fork-full was amortizing at $287.
While my fishing prowess the first day may have provided us with some false sense of mastery over our cruising universe, our hubris was moderated a bit on day four, when through superior planning, careful charting and expert use of the GPS, aided by clear skies, fair winds, and a tide running three knots in our favor, we sailed right past the entrance to Hadley's Harbor in the Wood's Hole Channel and squirted out the other side. We ended up spending the night moored in swanky Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard, some 15 miles away. These are the vicissitudes of cruising. One minute you're the fish assassin and on top of the world. The next you're a bubba in Edgartown, with a deck prism leaking over your head. Either way, I'll take it.