2012-03-15 / Editorial

Scattering Seeds

BY JOHN A. MURPHY

This is an essay written 16 years ago, as an entry in a boat log. The vessel was a small wooden ketch, restored by a master boat builder. The log entry describes the writer’s first sail aboard his newly purchased boat.

“7 a.m.: Boat launched at East Ferry in Jamestown, with restorer aboard. Virtually no wind, but we drift with the tide down to the mooring field off Green’s Pier, and secure boat to a mooring there. Sails left up. Row to pier in dinghy and drop off restorer. Very pleasant first sail aboard this fine little boat.

“10 a.m.: Depart from mooring, alone. Very light breeze. Hazy sky. Head south and west for Mackerel Cove. Destination: picnic there with other boaters.

“11:30 a.m.: Enter Mackerel Cove after a very serene sail from Green’s Pier. BL rows out in his rowboat to hail me, saying: ‘One old boat greeting another old boat.’ We both head into Murray Bay, as black clouds move quickly into the area from the north. It begins to rain. Anchor and line set; the anchor catches. Beginning to take down sails. Now drenching rain. Kids yell from shore, ‘You’re drifting!’ The escalating wind and rising seas are pushing the boat rapidly southward, toward a rocky cliff. Despite efforts, cannot get the anchor to catch. That effort abandoned, with the rocky shore only a few yards away. Anchor line cast off. Begin to row, using the large heavy sweeps kept aboard as emergency power. Manage to row the boat between the cliff and a small rocky dumpling a few yards off shore. The boat is now being blown quickly out of Mackerel Cove, and toward the eastern shore of Beavertail peninsula. Sailing now, using the small remnant of the mizzen sail still aloft, but can manage only a straight course across the wind. Turns are impossible.

Mainsail flapping wildly. Boat moving extremely rapidly despite tiny sail area catching the wind. Just as the boat is about to make a hard landing on Beavertail, a Boston Whaler, skillfully piloted by CM, maneuvers alongside. CM takes a line tied off to the ketch’s bow cleat. He tows the ketch across the cove into Murray Bay, where it is secured to a line off the stern of Marbella. The entire squall event lasts approximately 30 minutes. Very lucky ending.

“2 p.m.: Return to Murray Bay on Navy motor whaler with GB and two lifeguards from Green’s Pier. Despite earnest efforts, unable to locate anchor and line. Ketch sailed back to mooring at Green’s. Learned there that the squall at mid-day had knocked down two twelve meter yachts racing off Newport.”

(Author’s note: Always check the weather before setting off, even on the shortest of cruises, and even in sheltered harbors. Being on the water in a small craft demands care and preparation. You can’t always be as lucky as I was on that hazy summer’s day 16 years ago.)

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