Red Fleece and Greasy Sweatshirts

By Douglas Bernon
September 14, 2000
Rockland, Maine
N 44 06.086 W 69 06.065

Today we're bobbing in the harbor at Rockland, Maine, seeing our friends Charlie and Kate, topping off the fuel tank, and running a few errands while we await a predicted high-pressure system that should swing the winds from the south more to the north and give us a smoother ride 160 miles down to the Cape Cod Canal and on to Newport. Replacing the sounds of songbirds of Down East is traffic noise. Replacing the comforting sounds of foghorns are jackhammers and the backup beepers of trucks. These days are marking the last days of our Maine voyage — the closing of a major chapter for Bernadette and me — and though there are great things ahead, it's an ending, and I feel sad, which probably accounts for the curmudgeonly thoughts that follow.

Photo of Charlie Doane and Douglas Bernon in the dinghy The always nautical-looking Charlie Doane and I in the dinghy.

Some querulous, self-appointed spokesman for the sartorial police, a man whose possibly decent reputation I won't besmirch by including his name here, e-mailed me not long ago and asked, "Why in all the photos do you have on the same red sweater? Is there some major significance? Or don't you have anything else?" That's one weird question, not much of his business, and therefore invites a knotty response. It's like my friend Hank Griffin said to me one day in graduate school, after a class on Freudian theory. "Y'know, dude, every herd has a uniform. With men, it's neckties. So wear a good one and then you can be proud of at least one thing that hangs down in front of you." So there.

Regarding my red fleece pullover, despite being in my sixth decade — nearly a grown-up — Bernadette maintains that this is my color and dresses me accordingly, whenever she can. Also, I'm fond of this pullover, which came to me after more than a decade of chow-like service as a member of the board of directors of a Washington, D.C., consulting firm. The chairman and CEO willy-nilly tossed me over the side in favor of more distinguished names, whose wisdom he claimed would be useful, but whose international renown and Rolodexes I suspect he hoped would cause coins to fall out of clouds. My take-a-hike compensation package consisted of a chintzy little Swiss-army-wanna-be pocketknife with the logo of the company, and the aforementioned red fleece jersey, which I wear when I'm not wearing my oil/paint/grease-stained, gray sweatshirt. The latter I've had on a lot this week, as much of the time I've had my head and hands in the engine compartment and bilge. In part, this is because I was changing the oil and transmission fluid, a theoretically routine event, about which, sadly, there is more to report, but also because I've been on a mission.

Photo of Douglas with arm stuck under engine Douglas with arm stuck under engine.

The Grail for which we've searched this week has been the heretofore never-seen underground creeks that trickle into our bilge. Bernadette has been much vexed about this for some time, while I pooh-poohed its significance. My worry-list has been too long to lodge any new items that my mate is willing to put on hers, but as we settle into a cruising life, the leaks and drips are becoming my obsessions too. (Mi Leak, Su Leak). When photographer Jason Stern told us he stored a year's supply of film in his bilge during his circumnavigation, my wife shot me an I-told-you-so look, and I cringed from the sudden onslaught of Very Dry Bilge Envy. Ever since, I've been on my back or upside down, searching.

Photo of Douglas in his most flattering position Douglas in his most flattering position.

So far we've found three sources. One was a rusted-loose hose clamp on the output end of the engine's saltwater pump, a good thing to find for lots of reasons, but a connection which can be reached only by lying on one's back and extending a too-thick arm into an opening only large enough to fit the kind of serious, garlic-and-dill pickle that Uncle Oscar Cahodas used to make when I was a kid. After you get your grown-up-size arm in there and twist it all about, blindly and one-handedly disconnecting, taping and reconnecting stuff, limb-extraction stands as a worthy goal.

In my case, egress was easier because blood is such a good lubricator. This simple task, which I figured would take maybe 30 minutes, devoured most of a day. Maybe this will change in time, but I kind of doubt it. One reality of cruising seems to be that you stop in one beautiful place after another so you can fix stuff.

Photo of Bernadette at Winter Harbor, Maine Bernadette at Winter Harbor, Maine — not covered with oil.

Two other mystery creeks (now parched dry, thank you) were the inspection plate on the starboard water tank, which is now re-bedded, and the dripless stern gland, which was weeping rivers of tears. None of these situations revealed themselves quickly, and these few discoveries represent two reasonably bright people spending about a week of their finite lives conducting second-grade science experiments. For example, to check if the shower sump was also a contributing felon, Bernadette employed a seasonally discounted Easter-egg dying kit to trace the water. This was the test that exonerated that suspect, and now we can dye eggs.

Steve D'Antonio, who manages Zimmerman Marine, and who can fix anything that floats or flies or rolls or molecularly rematerializes somehow, writes on technical matters for Cruising World and tolerates my questions. Not long ago he suggested to me in his oh-so-Zen-like way (okay, I'm paraphrasing here) that it's crucial we develop a personal relationship with our engine, that a diesel has an independent consciousness and, like dogs, can sense fear in their handlers, thus gaining the upper hand. He’s right, of course. I think of it as Inner Diesel.

Photo of Steve Callahan and Kathy Massimini Steve Callahan and Kathy Massimini.

If this inanimate precocity is also true of engine-oil-removing handpumps, ours, a sadistic little bastard, knew my terror. About the size of a large ear of corn, with a handle coming out the top, a suck-it-in tube at the bottom, and a pass-it-on tube on the side, I was pumping away, watching the dirty oil flowing out and into a bottle, when in a blink I saw — albeit a tad tardily — the tube slipping out of the pump. In that graceless moment I knew a Vesuvian future. Warm, dirty oil spewed all over me and everything else. There was oil on the floorboards, on the settee cushions, all over the galley, throughout the engine, in the tool box, on the bulkheads, on our lunch and groceries, the throw rugs, and, to my horror, all over My Personal Commodore, who began to scream as she took in the scene. For really good reasons there are no photos of this, but you can take my word, it did not improve the day for either of us.

Such events can leave me feeling profoundly ill-suited for cruising, so I latch greedily to the similar misfortunes of others. Steve Callahan, with whom we spent a wonderful day catching up and seeing his life here in Maine, consoled me that in using the very same pump he made a similar mess and never used it again. And Dan Spurr, who knows more about boats and boat repairs than most people in the cosmos, tells the story of wiping his hair back from his eyes while engaged in an epoxy project, only to find 45 minutes later that it had all hardened into a point on the top of his head. I'm grateful to both of them.