Why Are We Still Cruising?
December 1, 2005
"I can't believe it," Eileen said, "The weather report on the radio said we weren't likely to get showers until this afternoon."
She had a brush in one hand and an open can of Cetol wood finish in the other. The sky above us in the Southpoint anchorage in Stuart, FL, was an ominous charcoal gray. Moments before it had been clear. A few drops of rain spattered the cockpit coaming she had just masked with blue tape.
"If I wait until tomorrow to put on the next coat, I'll have to sand everything first, which means applying an additional coat after that -- assuming, of course, that we don't get interrupted by more rain. Tell me again, why are we out here cruising?"
"A very good question," David said. He emerged from the engine room with scraped knuckles and his forearms smeared with grease. Since launching the boat at the Indiantown marina a few days before, we had managed to travel all of twenty-odd miles down the St. Lucie canal to Stuart. In that short distance, we had discovered that the knotmeter no longer worked, the engine's electric fuel lift pump wouldn't lift, and the alternator was having a nervous breakdown. Billowing exhaust smoke signaled that the injectors weren't happy either and wanted to be serviced. After a single day of cruising, it was repair time in Stuart. And to ensure that the good weather we had been experiencing would end, Eileen decided to refinish the cockpit teak.
We phoned a diesel mechanic whom a friend had recommended and arranged for him to come out to the boat and take our injectors away to be tested. Doing anything about the knotmeter meant shipping it off to California and -- since it was long past it's warranty period -- spending a bunch of money. "We don't need to know how fast we're going," Eileen said. "Or, more to the point, how slow we're going. It's always depressing."
David spent a morning dismantling the engine's ignition panel and found a broken wire that explained the nonfunctioning electric pump. The alternator's erratic behaviour has proven to be more difficult to solve. The most likely culprit is a bad ground connection, but getting to any of the wiring means blindly groping around in the least accessible corner of the engine compartment. So far, David has managed only to mangle his hands and exhaust his repertoire of expletives.
"There must be at least one good reason why we put ourselves through this misery, but I'm having difficulty remembering what it is," he said. Almost on cue, a voice called out, "Little Gidding! Is it ever good to see you!" A dinghy was approaching our stern. There was no mistaking its driver: our old friend A.O. from "Polaris Jack". We first met A.O. and his wife Lindy in Antigua in 1996. Our paths crossed several times in the Caribbean. The last time we saw "Polaris Jack" was a couple of years ago in Chesapeake Bay.
Eyeing the threatening clouds, A.O. said, "Why don't you drop by our boat for coffee tomorrow morning and we'll catch up with some sea stories?"
Yesterday morning we took the dinghy over to "Polaris Jack", a Lyle Hess designed Falmouth 26. "It's supposed to be a cutter, but we call it a clutter," A.O. chuckled as he welcomed us aboard. We picked our way around the piles of gear on the deck and squeezed into the cockpit. A.O. explained that they were also detained in Stuart due to boat problems; their starter motor was acting up.
Lindy passed up a couple of mugs of coffee and commented wistfully, "I started cruising on a boat without an engine. We had kerosene lamps and a depth sounder that only worked when we were on a starboard tack. We spent more time enjoying sailing and less time worrying about maintenance. Now that we have an engine, we appreciate the convenience of motoring some of the time and being able to travel to more places, like the Intracoastal Waterway, but we have to contend with more equipment repairs." She paused and added, "That engine tried to kill me four times last year; I think it needs an exorcism."
A.O. continued, "We have a 'six tool rule'. Any job on board will require a minimum of six tools and they'll always be located in the most inaccessible part of the boat, necessitating the removal of everything else to get to them. And to determine how long a job will take and how much it will cost, we simply take our first estimate and multiply by three."
David asked our hosts, given the hassles, why they kept cruising. A.O. said, "I like the feeling of oneness you get from sailing -- you, your boat, and the environment all acting together. You're personally involved in your own propulsion. A power boater once asked me how I could stand taking all day getting somewhere that he could get to in a couple of hours. I told him, 'What's your hurry? Do you race through sex and then exclaim to your partner, Aha, beat you again!'"
Lindy and A.O. agreed that the aspect of cruising they now appreciate the most is the people they meet in the places they visit. Ironically, the incident that they felt best illustrated how kind people had been to them over the years was the time they were boarded and robbed in Grenada. A.O. explained, "Our boat's so small, we figure we're beneath the contempt of most robbers. People usually want to give us stuff, not take anything away, so we were surprised when three thieves came out to our boat one night when we were anchored off the beach in St. George's harbour. I guess they were desperate and we were the only ones around."
The intruders were armed with knives, machetes and a pistol. They tied our friends up and took the cash that Lindy had set aside to buy plane tickets for a trip home. They stole their dinghy and set it adrift after they got to shore. A.O. and Lindy freed themselves and put out a call for assistance on the VHF radio. At 0300 hours, the only response they received was from a pilot boat skipper whom A.O. -- once a pilot boat captain himself -- had previously befriended. He went out of his way to contact the police for them. The police were extremely helpful. It probably didn't hurt that a few days before A.O. and Lindy had assisted three of them when they were off-duty. They had been out fishing in a small boat and got caught in a sudden squall; they ended up drinking hot chocolate on "Polaris Jack".
Friends at the Grenada Yacht Club arranged free dockage for them for as long as it took them to get everything straightened out. A local fisherman recovered their dinghy and towed it 25 miles to Grenada Yacht Services. The security guard at GYS, recognizing the name, took a bus to the yacht club to tell them that he had their dinghy. The news about their loss got out on the local SSB radio net. Cruising friends and locals in Grenada organized an auction of "treasures of the bilge" and gave them the proceeds. Cruisers in Trinidad also raised donations to help replace the money they had lost.
"In response to this one incident," A.O. said, "All of the friends we had made quite independently, both local people and fellow cruisers, came together to help us out."
We finished our coffee and returned to our boat. We thought about all of the people we had met cruising over the past dozen years, including A.O. and Lindy. Eileen got the Cetol out. David opened up the engine compartment. The sun peaked out from behind a cloud. "Hey, it's not such a bad life," David said.