Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Lock Keeper

I was halfway down the big, sandy hill that leads to the dinghy launch when my pager went off. I wasn’t on call, so I didn’t think too much about it. Besides, it was at the bottom of a waterproof bag in the hull of the small, plastic boat I was pulling behind me.

As I got to the water’s edge it went off again. I was just getting ready to row out to the Mermaid, when it started its beep, beep, beeping. I put down the oars and picked up my bag. I started fishing around and, after making my way past my scuba booties and mask, a bottle of water, my keys, and $3.75 in cash and coins, I found it, at the very bottom, tucked deep inside one of my boat shoes.

Mildly put off, I flipped up the screen and pressed the requisite buttons to check my messages. The screen glowed a pale blue as I waded through the menus. After a couple of deft button pushes I was greeted by two messages, both garbled beyond usefulness. There was no signal in the harbor. I tossed the beeper back into the bag, set up the oars and seat, and rowed my way out into the channel.

This is an apt metaphor for the boat in general. Once I cross the boundary between the sand and the surf, I am not longer defined by my every day life – I am the Captain. I am freed, at least a couple of hours, from my stable, pedestrian existence. In a moment I can raise the sails and set off on an adventure, or just lie on deck and have a beer. I can even take my life in my hands, challenging the capabilities of my boat and myself, if the notion strikes me.

The Mermaid is mine. My own private, floating island of Jim that no one else has a claim to. I am isolated, except for the occasional visit from my neighbo - what I believe to be a black egret - and the odd person waving from a passing boat.

I have no connection to the land, no phone reception, no pager service, and my only company is the steady, hypnotic drone of the marine radio - in and of itself a a mysterious symphony of nautical jargon and the occasional distress call. I don’t have to deal with anything, or anyone, unless I want to.

You can’t get to or visit the Island of Jim unless I invite you, and that makes the invitation so much more meaningful. I guess that is why the second voyage of the Maggie Mermaid meant more to me then the first.

I put he boat in the water about two weeks ago, over the course of a long weekend. It was a little bit of a fiasco, as I have never launched a boat before, or, for that matter, driven a pickup truck. I rented a big F250 from the local Ford dealer and Matt and I hooked up the trailer. Fortified with bagels and coffee we headed to the harbor, tracing our way through a winding maze of hills, blind turns, and hidden driveways. I have never towed anything before, much less a 20 foot boat, and I came very close to flipping it about 500 feet from my house.

Despite this inauspicious start I managed to get the boat to the ramp in once piece. It took literally 30 tries to back it into the water, during which time I garnered the ire of Mount Sinai’s entire commercial fishing fleet. The kid who worked at the docks assured me that they are generally pissed off at the world, but they looked enough like pirates for me to breathe a sigh of relief when the boat was safely tied to the dock and the truck parked.

I sent much of the next two day getting to know the boat in the water, an entirely more satisfying experience that simply sitting in the driveway. After my ignoble defeat the week before, I was becoming increasingly convinced that I wouldn’t live to see the day I actually got the Mermaid afloat. We even started to look at powerboats, at my wife’s encouragement.

The first voyage was a short one, under power, to the mouth of the harbor. The sails were raised, but there as an issue with the mainsail, so as soon as I cleared the jetty I turned around and headed back to my mooring. It seemed important to me that I make it into the Sound. I was underway for approximately half an hour, and the boat handled great. I was hoping for a little more speed from the engine, but I got a steady 7 knots, which is respectable. I learned a couple of weeks ago that a knot is 1.6 miles, so I got about 10 – 11 MPH.

The second voyage occurred about a week later, last Sunday, with my wife, daughter, and my son. My wife and daughter were busy all weekend, they had a bridal shower and dress fitting, and I spent most of two days watching my 4-month-old son. It was nice, and we really bonded, but at the same time I was lonely and bored. I spent all of Saturday playing the Godfather on X-box (I am an Under Boss of the Corleone Family now, so don’t screw with me), but I really wanted to be on the water and more then that I really wanted to hang out with my family.

Sunday started off miserable, both psychologically and weather-wise, and I ended up spending another lonely morning watching TV and dozing off. It was raining and the local news station was predicting thunderstorms. We had planned to go fishing that afternoon, but I wasn’t holding out much hope. My wife and daughter were late getting back from the dress fitting, and isn't exactly stellar parenting to take an infant out on a small boat in a storm. I was pretty bummed.

My wife got home around 1:30 and we hung around for an hour or so. We decided to try to go out, as much from a desire to not straighten up the house as any real enthusiasm.

Even as I put the dinghy on the roof of the car, no mean feat in and of itself, it was starting to drizzle. Our original plan was to head to West Marine and pick up a new radio, some fishing poles, and a new shackle for the boom vang. The boom vang is a bunch of rope and pulleys that attaches to the underside of the boom and the base of the mast. It is used to hold the boom down when the sail fills and provide to the proper twist to maximize lift. It is attached by two shackles, one of which Matt dropped overboard.

It was obvious that the weather was not going to hold, so we scrapped the fishing idea and decided to just cruise around. Gina took the kids to pick up drinks while I rowed out to the boat. As I was heading across the channel it started to pour.

By the time I reached to boat it had calmed down, and I saw Gina waiting on the dock. I started the engine and cruised over. Everyone hoped on board and we motored east toward the jetties at the mouth of the harbor. As we making our way to open water the clouds parted and the sun came out. It was the first time all weekend that the weather had cleared.

My daughter took the tiller and piloted us out of the channel as I raised the mainsail. We cruised around for about an hour and then put the bow up on a small beach. I set the anchor up on the dunes and my wife put down a blanket. She fed the baby while my daughter went swimming.

All it all it was a great afternoon on Jim Island. As I sailed back to my mooring, having dropped my family safely back on the shore, it occurred to me how lucky I was to have people to invite onto my little oasis. The option of simply sailing away, with no ties to the land, gives me a greater appreciation of what keeps me tethered to it. I heard a song once, by Stan Rogers, called Lock Keeper, I think the lyrics speak more eloquently then I can…

You say, "Well-met again, Lock-keeper!

We're laden even deeper that the time before, Oriental oils and tea brought down from Singapore."

As we wait for my lock to cycleI say, "My wife has given me a son."
"A son!" you cry,
"Is that all that you've done?"

She wears bougainvilla blossoms.
You pluck 'em from her hair and toss 'em in the tide,
Sweep her in your arms and carry her inside.

Her sighs catch on your shoulder; Her moonlit eyes grow bold and wiser through her tears
And I say, "How could you stand to leave her for a year?"
"Then come with me" you say, "to where the Southern CrossRides high upon your shoulder."

"Come with me!" you cry,
"Each day you tend this lock, you're one day older,
While your blood runs colder."

But that anchor chain's a fetterAnd with it you are tethered to the foam,
And I wouldn't trade your life for one hour of home.

Sure I'm stuck here on the Seaway, While you compensate for leeway through the Trades;
And you shoot the stars to see the miles you've made.
And you laugh at hearts you've riven,
But which of these has given us more love of life?
You, your tropic maids, or me, my wife?

"Then come with me" you say, "to where the Southern Cross rides high upon your shoulder."
"Ah come with me!" you cry,
"Each day you tend this lock, you're one day older,
While your blood runs colder."

But that anchor chain's a fetter
And with it you are tethered to the foam,
And I wouldn't trade your life for one hour of home.
Ah your anchor chain's a fetter
And with it you are tethered to the foam,
And I wouldn't trade your whole life for just one hour of home.

I know this entry was a little long, mea culpa; there was a lot to tell…

PS: When I finally checked my pager again, it had twelve messages. I didn’t hear any of them, the bag was in the cabin and the wind and the waves are loud…

Monday, July 10, 2006

4th of July Weekend

Don’t sail in more ocean then you can handle. Every time I’ve come across this piece of advice in “Sailing for Dummies” I make a note of it, tick it off in my mental check list, and move on to more exciting fare, like celestial navigation, or going fast with a spinnaker.   
Being careful is not very sexy or exciting.  As an intellectual exercise the ideas of prudence and safety are great, if somewhat prosaic, concepts.  Sort of like mom telling you not to run with scissors, or tying your shoes when the laces are hanging. It is the sort of common sense, “I already know that”, idea that is all too easy to gloss over.
I started the long Fourth of July weekend in high spirits, and with high hopes.  The weather was beautiful and we had a big family BBQ on Saturday.  It was my daughter’s birthday and we had everyone over for beer and burgers in the yard. Beyond the usual antics of my family things went pretty well.  I even made a pitcher of grog (I will omit the cinnamon next time), and blew up my daughter’s princess jumper so the kids (and adults) could jump around in it. 
Matt and I were scheduled to raise the mast on Sunday morning and after breaking his balls for a week I was pretty sure he would actually show up this time.  To that end, I woke up early on Sunday and helped Gina clean the house.  It was a little hectic, we had a photographer coming at 9:00 to take pictures of the kids, but that house was in pretty good shape to begin with and things went quickly.
Matt showed up around 11:30, about a half hour late.  In Matt time this is actually early, so I didn’t complain.  After a couple of beers we got to work and again, this went fairly well.  Once the mast was up and secured into its bracket the lines and cables sort of fell into place.  We attached the standing rigging, six spars made of metal cord that connect to the deck and secure the mast in position, and the running rigging.  Running rigging is a fancy way of saying the two sails, the jib in front and the main sail behind, and all the rope that you need to raise and lower them.  There were a couple of minor glitches and there were some extra parts, but all in all Matt declared the Mermaid fit for the water.  

After a brief nap in the garage (I woke up with a spider crawling on my face), I called Uhaul and rented a 10-foot box truck with a hitch to tow the boat to the harbor.  I tried to get a more reasonable rental, either a pickup truck or a van, but a moving truck was all they had on short notice.  

My wife took the kids to the movies with her friend Stacy, and I was on my own for the afternoon.  I spent most of it trying to find a dinghy.  I was going to borrow my brother’s canoe, but I ended up getting a small inflatable raft instead.  I had to run all over town before I finally found one at Target.

After the movie, Stacy ended up staying around for a couple of hours and I talked her into towing my boat to the water.  It was late, so she promised to stop by after work on Monday with her Xtera.  I immediately called Uhaul and cancelled my reservation.  I was very excited, both because the Mermaid was going to launch and also because I was going to save a few bucks on the truck rental.

The next morning I woke up early and did a final wash on the boat.  Gina was home sick from work so she stayed in the house with the baby.  He had a cold for the last week or so, a cough and a slight fever, and as soon as he started to feel better, Gina started feeling worse.  My daughter and I scrubbed the decks with special fiberglass cleaner and I stowed all of the equipment below decks.  On my last trip to West Marine I picked up a fire extinguisher, an air horn, and a flare gun, stuff like that.  I am pretty excited about the flare gun.

Gina’s office called a couple of times during the day, so I had to watch the baby on and off, but things were shipshape by the time Stacy arrived.  She was originally going to come at 2, but she got hung up and didn’t get to the house until 4:30.  My in-laws also arrived about the same time and my father-in-law and I went to work hitching up the trailer.  

My father-in-law, Sal, has a 19-foot Rinker bow rider with he trailers to Smith’s Point Park. I have never put a boat in the water off of a trailer and I and I was counting on him to get us to the marina and down the ramp.

Things got off to a bad start.  The ball on the truck hitch was too big for the trailer and we had to drive over to Aid Auto to pick up a new one.  It was after 5 by the time we got back and the wind had started to pick up.  As we were putting the trailer on the hitch, my wife informed me that there were thunderstorms rolling in.  It would take about an hour to raise the mast and rig the sails, so time was becoming a critical issue.  I did not want to launch in the dark.

After fiddling around with the electrical hook up – the brake lights didn’t work on the trailer – we got moving.  It took about 20 minutes of bouncing around with the trailer making scary noises, to get to the marina.  It was packed.  

There must have been 20 boats lined up to either get in or come out of the water.  Every one was in a hurry, as most were scrambling to get their vessels back on land before the weather hit.  As we pulled up the water the wind started to howl, it must have been going 10 or15 miles an hour.  I read once that in a strong wind the rigging starts to moan.  It does.  Whenever there was a good gust, the mast would creak and the metal spars would make this baleful whining noise.  To make matters worst, the tide was going out, which, along with the wind, created a fast current and white caps.
Sal and I started putting up the standing rigging, while Gina took the binoculars and tried to find my mooring. When I spoke to Keith, my neighbor and by coincidence the owner of the Marina, he gave me the somewhat vague directions of “Near dock B”.

On land this seemed very reasonable, like when you park in the lot at an amusement park. “Everyone remember; we are parked in Section B”.

It is a hell of a lot less reasonable when you have to pilot a tiny inflatable raft a mile though heavy boat traffic and two foot waves.

Rigging the boat went well, but my stress level was rising as quicker as the mast.  I yelled at my daughter and my wife was pushing me to finish up.  She couldn’t find the mooring and she wanted to go home.  She couldn’t find the mooring with the binoculars so she had walked down to the boat yard to ask them for help.  It turns out that the post-it note with my information had blown away. I took this as a bad omen.

Bad omen in mind, I kept looking at the water. As the sun started to go down the waves got bigger and the wind picked up.  My inflatable raft, in my mind it had already ceased being worthy of dinghy status, seemed smaller and more pathetic with each passing minute.

It was at this point that I learned something very important about myself.  It seems that I am still afraid to die.  I honestly wasn’t sure.  It seems like the older I get the less chances there are to check.  

This is both a good and bad thing.  I appreciate that my life has a certain amount of stability.  I have a nice house, in a safe area.  I have access to doctors and police and all the things that insulate us real peril.  

My life is also completely devoid of adventure. It is difficult and risky to actually take a chance.  It is easier to spend money to buy a car that goes 180 then it is to actually go 180.  Fear is scary and unpleasant, but it is also challenging and facing it is life affirming.  For a brief moment, as I stood in the cockpit of my boat looking out on the ocean, I remembered this.  All the bullshit that makes up my daily life was stripped away and I confronted my own mortality.  It made me feel small and terrified, but alive.

I wish I could say that I manned up and launched the boat.  But I didn’t. The one thing I don’t want to do here is lie.  I believe in telling the truth, if not always in names and details then certainly in emotion and sentiment, and the truth is I blinked.  I remembered, “Don’t sail in more ocean then you can handle” and I realized that at that particular moment all I could handle was the parking lot.

The drive home was quiet.  After we re-stowed the sails and lowered the mast, my father in law and I had little to say to each other.  I was tired and feeling introspective anyway.  I was considering the sea, and myself. I think that if things had gone easy I would have been disappointed.  I feel like some great mystical gauntlet has been thrown down, my own white whale if you will.  Will I rise to the challenge?  It is no give in.  As I write this another weekend has gone by and the boat is not in the water.  Some part of me is still afraid I guess.  Or maybe afraid is the wrong word; maybe it is more like humbled or respectful.  More then anything, though, I am determined.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


It is becoming clear that I need to take a more proactive approach to raising the Mermaid's mast and rigging her sails. For the last few weeks I have been making excuses not to do it. For example, the weather did not cooperate, again, this weekend and Matt (my sailing friend) and I didn't get together. Hence the boat remains mast-less and sitting, rather pathetically, in my driveway.

The truth is that the the process intimidates me. There is so much rope and cable that I find it overwhelming. That being said, I am running out of things to do instead. The engine is done, the pin stripe is on, and I power washed the deck (twice). I even tried to camped out in the cabin with my daughter, until it got so hot that the walls were sweating. The time has come to sail or sink, so to speak.

I started reading "Sailing For Dummies" a last weekend. After the first couple of chapters it became pretty obvious that unpacking, rigging, and raising the sails is a skill I have to acquire. It needs to be done each time the boat goes out and while it is in the water no less. The book takes a lot of the mystery out of the process and has pretty straight forward instructions about attaching the sail and rigging the ropes. It is a pretty decent book, and a quick read, but it scared the hell out of me. I am a fairly adventurous guy, and I have been accused of "jumping in with both feet" but the section on being "in the irons" gave me pause.

I guess I knew that the boat can't sail dead into the wind. As it turns out there is an area, called the no sail zone, that cover about 45 degrees on either side of the bow. To go against the wind you have to tack, or zig zag back and forth in the general direction you want to go. The problem is that when you tack you have to cross through the no wind zone. If you don't move quickly enough, you get stuck. You end up stranded with no wind in the middle of the sound. To make matters worse the sails will back fill and you will end up going backward in the water. Add to this the unintentional jibe - when you get the sail on the wrong side of the wind and the boom (which it the horizontal mast that makes up the bottom of the triangle that holds the main sail)flies across the cockpit with the speed and force of a small truck - and you have "being in the irons". All in all a terrible proposition that the book assures me will happen multiple times, usually at the worst possible moment. The book suggests taking lessons... I am considering it.

The book also reinforces my idea that there is a great deal of continuity in sailing. I think this is because people have been using more or less the same technology for the last 10,000 years. I think that is what appeals to me - tapping into that common history. I once read that when you are out in the water, under sail and far way from the land, you have left the world behind. No people, no cities, no engine, just the wind and the waves. You are using the same skills and having the same experience that a viking might have had, or a Persian trader, or even Columbus and in a way that experience connects you to them. Kind of cool if you think about it. Seems like there might be something profound out there. I am looking forward to finding out.

To that end, I ran into Keith on Monday. He told me my mooring is in the water and ready to go. Looks like the maiden voyage is going to be July 15! It looks like my friend Mike is on board to tow the Mermaid down to the harbor.

Update: Keith had an update on Daniel Rowe. He saw him sailing away from Mount Sinai Habor. We are still unable to contact him, but I called the Cape Cod Times and they have no reported shipwrecks that match the Pearson 22 he was sailing. They are looking into it...

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Passing The Time

You know who I am, you know how I make a living

Hard as it is to believe, the first draft of this entry was written by hand, on an honest to god piece of paper. My computer at work was being serviced and, as a result, I was forced to use an actual pen. I forgot how nice it is to really jotted down my thoughts, as opposed to typing them.

I did find it amusing and disturbing that I barely remember how to write. For at least the last 10 years almost everything substantial I have written has been typed. My handwriting looks like a cross between the scribbles of a preschooler and the pictographs they found in that cave in Spain. To make matters worse, my hand started to cramp. All this makes me wonder if people will even know what a pen is by the time my daughter has children.

I haven't had much time to work on the Mermaid lately. I have been in marathon meetings at work and the baby has been keeping us awake at night, so I am a little beat. I did get outside last night though, for a few hours at least.

I snuck out to check on the battery and I ended up losing track of the time. I didn’t come in until almost 10. I caulked the windows and resealed the through hull, just to be on the safe side. I also started to remove the old pin striping from the port side of the hull. It actually came off pretty easily; I used the power washer on it. I still need to scrap off some left over pieces, but it is going ok. I am a little concerned about ruining the gel coat, though, if I do scrape it. Truthfully, I am a little scared to try.

I have a half-day on Friday – part of my company’s summer hours program – and Matt is coming over Sunday morning to help my raise the mast. I am getting pretty psyched, I think two more weeks and I will be good to go. I need to call Keith at the yard and check the status of my mooring. For those of you who are keeping track, I got a 77 dollar bill from the marina for some new chain and a coupling.

On an unrelated note, Matt asked me to post a link to the grog recipe I found. For those of you that don’t know, grog is the preferred beverage or pirates. It is made from rum, water, sugar and spices. We have a running joke going that I am a pirate, and that the Coast Guard will sink me by the end of the season.

This irresponsible rumor stems from my desire to buy a cannon for the front of my boat. They actually sell them. Small brass cannons that really fire. No cannonball or anything, but they make a hell of a lot of noise and a huge plume of smoke. Sounds like fun huh?

This conversation quickly degenerated into arrrrs, name-calling, and threats of keelhauling. Normal car pool stuff, but my membership in the brotherhood of the coast was firmly established.

I also promised Matt that I would post some information about Jawsfest, which is a celebration of Jaws, the movie and the book, that takes place in Martha’s Vineyard. Unfortunately it is cancelled this year, as Peter Benchly , the author, recently passed away. Instead they are running the “Monster Shark” tournament . First prize is a 31-foot fishing boat, worth 130,000 dollars!

There is also the Stan Rogers Folk Festival in Nova Scotia. Rogers specialized in what I call pirate music, sea shanties and the like. He is worth a look if you are feeling nautical.

Sorry about all the links and general silliness. I was only passing the time.

UPDATE: I called Daniel Row again, or at least his proxy WC Hall. Hall’s number is, according to my phone, the place where Row called from when I spoke to him a couple of weeks ago. There was no answer. Matt has proposed a rescue mission… details to follow....

Monday, June 19, 2006

Progress, Vacation, and Father's Day Weekend

I took some vacation time this week. I have only been on the new job for about three months, but I have been very busy and it is the kind of place where you can burn out quick, if you are not careful. I don't usually take vacations, my standard joke is that I work until I either take time off or kill everyone in the office, it wasn't quite that bad, but I needed the time. I took Thursday and Friday to relax and work on the boat, and it dovetailed nicely with Father's Day.


I spent Thursday morning with my daughter. We stopped at the diner for breakfast and she was late to school so I use my dad powers and wrote a note so she wouldn't get in trouble. I would have let her stay home, but she was presenting the sponge report we worked on last week (see my last post) and she had to give a speech. We practiced in the the car on the way in, she sounded pretty good. She takes after her old man, I guess. She is a great public speaker and a bit of a ham.

I dropped her off and headed to West Marine to get the fittings I needed for the bilge pump. I got some clamps, 2 feet of 1 1/8 hose and a tee shirt that said Captain – my Father's Day gift to me. My plan was to install the pump and run it into the exiting bilge plumbing using a barbed connector (1 1/8 to 1 1/2).

I got everything I needed from West Marine, except for the connector itself. The connector is nothing more then a hard plastic tube that connects two different sized hoses. The barbs are a series of sharp bumps that hold the hose in place and prevent the water from leaking. I spent the next 3 hours searching for this damned little piece of hard plastic.

First I went to Home Depot, where I spent 40 minutes looking for someone to help me, and another 20 minutes waiting for them to figure out that they didn't have what I needed. This process was repeated, sans the waiting for help, at two marine stores and a plumbing supply house.

Slightly discouraged I met up with my mom, dad, and brother at the doctors office in town. My brother is sick so he has to go to for check ups pretty regularly. After his appointment was over we headed back along the shore road toward my house and had lunch at the Greek place in the village. Adam, my brother, is pretty handy, especially with electrical stuff, so I talked him in to hooking the pump up to the battery. I would worry about the plumbing later.

We spent about half an hour below deck before Adam announced that I didn't have all the parts I needed. I was missing wire, connectors, and a switch - to turn the pump on and off. This meant another trip to West Marine. I picked up my daughter from school and we headed out. Adam gathered up the parts and my daughter found a ships log for kids.

My brother's selection of parts did not inspire confidence and I scrapped the whole purchase. This caused an argument and my daughter had a quasi-tantrum inside the store. More discouraged then ever, I decided it was time to call in the big guns. My Father-in-law is a retired electrician, I left him a message and asked him to come over.


Friday morning was smoother. I got my daughter on the bus and headed out to pick up my mooring permit. The lady from the town finally called to tell me the paperwork was ready and that she would put it in the mail. I told her I would pick it up. It had been over a month and I was a anxious to get the ball rolling at the marina.

I was meeting my wife at noon, so I was a little pressed for time. She is going back to school in September to be a teacher and we were supposed to go over to Stony Brook University to register. I hit the Parks Department and hustled over to the college. She was late, but I got a BLT at Subway, so I wasn't too upset. Gina showed up at a quarter after and we headed to the Admissions Office.

After waiting for almost an hour we finally saw a councilor. In a matter of minutes Gina was officially a student again. She is majoring in math, with a minor in secondary education. Stony Brook is an excellent science and math school. So good, in fact, that when I applied, after high school, I was rejected.

After Gina was finished, I headed to my kid's school for her Father's Day lunch. I came into her classroom and she ran over to me and gave me a big hug. It was great. The class sang a song, to the tune of bingo – with D-A-D-D-Y taking the place of B-I-N-G-O. She hid behind the flag as she sang and made it a point of sing bingo instead of daddy. She found this to be the height of hilarity and has been calling me bingo ever since.

As soon as the party was over we jumped in the car and drove to the marina, Ralph's Fishing Station, to drop off my permit and my mooring. I scraped the crap out of the side of my car putting the anchor in the trunk, much to my chagrin, but we otherwise we made it unscathed. As I was paying my drop fee I learned that the marina is run, owned, and operated by my neighbor, Kieth. Kieth and his wife are very nice people and they have the world's largest dog, Laya, who is a Great Dane. She is about the size of my car and still a puppy.

I ran into Keith in the boat yard and he hooked my up with a new float for my anchor and promised to get me a good spot. He also offered to help me get straight with the harbor patrol. Good deal.

We made it back from the boat yard just in time to meet my in-laws for dinner. My father-in-law made short work of the pump installation. It is now working, using the intergrated switch panel in the cabin, and I even figured out how to hook it up to the existing plumbing. I clamped the small hose inside the bigger one and duct taped the whole thing - god bless duct tape. The bilge is pumped out and, if the battery doesn't die, I think the boat is ready for the water.


On Saturday we stayed in a hotel. The exterminator came that morning and gassed the ants in the walls. We have (had?) carpenter ants and the exterminator told us we had to get the baby out of the house for 24 hours. On a positive note, we had a milestone at the Holiday Inn, the baby rolled over for the first time!

The evening we headed to Sayville and had a light meal at Cafe Joelle. I had a seafood salad and a crab salad, I was in a salad-y sort of mood. Gina suggested that we head over to Fire Island, so I drove down to the docks.

For all of you non-Long Islanders, Fire Island is the barrier island that runs the length of the south shore. On the northern side it forms the Great South Bay, on the southern side is the Atlantic Ocean. The island itself is dotted with Federal Seashores and small ocean communities, some of which cater to the gay community. I think all the locals know about Cherry Grove, but apparently there are other towns as well. The ferries out of Sayville serve Cherry Grove, Sailor's Haven, and Fire Island Pines.

As we tried to park the man at the gate stopped us with an unusual question. He looked in our car and asked “Is there anyone else in there?”

I wasn't sure what he meant and asked him as much. He looked again and said “I guess I should tell you that we cater to, well, the gay community”

I told him that I knew about cherry grove. Apparently there are no secrets between sailors either, as he informed me that Sailors Haven is also queer as a three dollar bill. Fire Island Pines too.

Truth be told I could care less about a persons sexuality, but I don't want the kids to get an education. My wife and I were in tears as we drove away. It felt like a surreal Scooby Doo episode. “You kids should stay away from Cherry Grove, its haunted. Beware of the gay sailor's ghost!

I also asked my wife who the parking guy thought was in the car, did he think we had Liberace in the truck, maybe Freddy Mercury? Or better yet Rip Taylor would jump out, throw confetti, and yell “Fabulous”. It was pretty funny.


I finally got to clean the boat on Sunday morning. On the way back from the hotel we stopped at my parents to bring bagels and wish my dad a happy Father's Day. We had a soccer game at 12 so we left pretty quickly. I power washed the boat, when we got home, and Gina got our daughter into her soccer uniform.

I got most of the deck done and the gunwales washed down. The Maggie Mermaid is looking pretty good. I plan to caulk the windows and put on the pin stripping this week. If all goes well I should have her in the water in the next two weeks.

My kid's 8 birthday is coming up and I am going to do a “kid friendly” naming ceremony. I figure, since it is going to be a mermaid and pirate party, there would be nothing luckier then having the kids do the ceremony as a party activity. I am going to get a bunch of the that non-alcoholic chanpagne.

More good news. We won our soccer game, the last one of the year. We went 6-1-2 for the season, though no one officially keeps records. Some of the kids got me gifts and, because it was so hot, we spent most of our practice having a water fights.

After the game we headed out to the Mattituck Strawberry festival, the tea house, and then to Cedar Beach to go swimming. Everyone got sunburned and salty, and the baby put his feet in the water for the first time. All in all it was a great weekend.

Happy fathers day....

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Daniel Row Principle

My daughter has a report due for school in three days. Her assignment is to write a paper on a sea creature, something local to the Long Island Sound.

When I was a kid I used to snorkel in the creek at West Meadow beach in Setauket. About 10 feet down, at a turn in the creek, there is a field of orange sponges. There must have been 200 of them shattered over a quarter mile, some as big as a watermelon, some bigger. Since I am on a nautical kick I suggested that she write about sponges and promised her that I would take her snorkeling to take pictures and get a sample.

She was very excited and told her whole class that her daddy was going to take her diving. When I made this promise it was mid May, and I was hoping it would warm up. I was also hoping that the boat would be ready and we could sail into Setauket Harbor. Neither one of these things has happened. The boat is still in my driveway, pending a new bilge pump and a mooring permit, and the water temperature is 66 degrees.

I had planned to take her Friday night after work, but I got home too late. My carpool-mates, mostly Matt and Ed, were convinced that the water was too cold and that I would have a heart attack. Matt even went so far as to call his mom, a nurse, and inquire into my chances of survival. I explained that my daughter had a full wetsuit and that I had my own natural padding. I am a lot like a polar bear and I am generally not bothered by the cold. Ed - who is my boss, and a man of great compassion - started talking about filling my position. I told them that they were wimps and that I was now living by the Daniel Row principle. I was ready to face death. The more people who told me that it was certain doom, the more determined I was to do it.

My mom went to the hospital on Saturday. Nothing serious, but it blew my snorkeling plans out of the water. Instead I spend most of Saturday morning trying to make heads or tails of my bilge pump. It turns out that the pump is there, it is a Gibbs Hobson Mark V (Size 2) self-priming pump – I read this off the side – but it is not hooked up. To make matters worst it is not self-bailing, which means it has to be turned on an off. This is an old style pump and is meant for trailered boats. After spending three hours wedged into the sub-decking under the cockpit, tracing the bilge lines to the pump and the through hull, I decided to just get a new one. I am going to get a 1000-gallon per hour self-contained pump with a float. All I have to do it mount it and hook it to the battery. It will start and stop itself based on the water level.

I also made a discovery about the boat. The Maggie Mermaid used to be called the Dawn Joy. I found the name written on the inside of the compass housing, on the hood that protects it from rain, salt spray, et. Al.. It is incredibly bad luck to rename a boat. If you are going to rename it there is a whole ceremony you have to follow to ward off bad mojo.

The ritual involves champagne and magic spells, so it is not all bad. You start by removing all traces of the old name from the vessel and finish by appeasing the sea gods. In a way my pain in the ass pump is a blessing. If I hadn’t been crawling around the deck I would never have found the old name and god knows what sort of terrible wrath I would have faced. Click here to learn more about the ceremony – it is pretty cool.

On Sunday morning we had our open house. It was not good and I am pretty sure we will pull the house from the Market. Things have really cooled down in housing and I am a little bummed out. To make matters worse we have a Soccer game at noon that we lost. My daughter plays on the team and I am the coach. We were undefeated and the team we played was not that good. On a positive note, I am trying to teach the kids positions and defense and they are doing ok. It just didn’t come together. My daughter also sprained her ankle. I am chalking it up to angry sea gods. Out last game is next week, so I am hoping to appease Poseidon by then (

I finally got to the creek on Sunday afternoon – the last possible chance before I had to come in on Monday and face the scorn of my car pool. I hadn’t been to the creek, which is actually a tidal estuary, in years. It was not exactly how I remembered it. There used to be a bunch of cottages there, summer shacks right on the beach. We used to swim all day by the jetty, and then climb up on the roofs at night to drink, get stoned, and watch the sun go down. The rich people who live up on the bluffs had them torn down a couple of years ago, I guess it obstructed their view of Connecticut.

The creek was still the same though, along with a lighthouse and a nature center. The nature center is now named after an old teacher of mine, Dr. Erwin Ernst, who taught the summer marine biology class at Ward Melville HS. Dr. Ernst, or Ernie, died a few years ago, and I guess it was only natural to name the place he loved after him.

The creek flows past the little green building that serves as a classroom. There is a little beach there that the students use to catch specimens. The sponge bed runs right off the beach in about 10 feet of water.

My wife got our daughter suited up in her new wetsuit, hood, booties, mask, snorkel, and flippers. She also strapped on her underwater camera, specimen bag and safety line. Meanwhile I was wearing an old pair of green shorts, a long shelve insulated shirt, a tee shirt, a pair of fins, and my old mask and snorkel - left over from my brief flirtation with SCUBA. She looked like Jacque Cousteau, and I looked like a homeless guy with goggles.

I have to admit; when I first jumped into the water it hit me like a punch to the chest. It was shockingly cold, to the point that the air was forced out of me and I ended up swallowing a lot of water. After a few seconds of floundering below the surface I managed to right myself and kick back up to grab a breath. It took a couple of minutes, but eventually the cold became tolerable and I was able to get a good rhythm with my breathing. My daughter walked out about 20 feet and threw me the free end of her safety line. She was a little scared of the drop off; the water went from about 3 feet to 10 feet very quickly was having a hard time with her ankle. She is a good swimmer, but it hurt when she kicked her flipper.

I kicked over to help her and she promptly jumped on my back. I spent the rest of the afternoon ferrying her around the creek, diving with her on my back and stomach like a dolphin. I am a very strong swimmer and the fins make it easier, but I still felt a lot like Shamu pulling my trainer around the pool. All I needed was a flaming hoop and some fish to eat.

We dived for about 30 – 40 minutes and took a bunch of pictures and we got a nice sample for her report. She had a great time and the whole family had a nice time walking on the beach.

It was a very odd, but very nice weekend. A perfect example of the Daniel Row principle

Update: Matt’s old boat is no longer in the boat yard. It looks like Mr. Row made his sail to Buzzard’s Bay. We have been trying to reach him no his phone, but there is no answer…

Friday, June 09, 2006

Good News and Bad News

I finally got a chance to work on the boat yesterday. We are trying to sell our house, so for the last month my weekends have been spent cleaning, and painting, and fixing things. Most of last Saturday was dedicated to cleaning out the basement and garage, and between soccer games, graduation parties, and the odd open house Sundays are more or less a wash until mid-July.

Yesterday was a rare opportunity. It was nice out and I had nothing else to do. My wife was sick so she was more or less sleeping when I got home and the baby was in his crib. This allowed me a couple of free hours to get some stuff done. My daughter even shunned the TV for a change and helped out.

First the good news. I successfully replaced the wastewater fitting, also called the piss hole fitting because without it the engine shoots water out the side like, well, a stream of piss. This fitting is a small piece of threaded plastic that screws into the cooling system and routes the waste water through some tubing to an external fitting, which, ironically, looks like a slightly smaller stream of piss.

I also started working on the through hull fitting. This is the piece of plastic that connects the sink to a small hole drilled through the bottom of the boat. It just slides in and is held in place by two screw-down flanges and some caulk. It is very important that this fitting be watertight, as almost every source on the Internet says that an improperly installed fitting will sink your boat in a matter of minutes. No pressure…

On a funny side note my wife, who is such a wonderful woman, was nice enough to pick up my parts at the Bargin Bulge, a marine store frequented by commercial fishermen and other salty types, on her way back from the doctor. The near pirates that run the place were nasty to her because she wasn’t sure what parts to pick up. I am pretty sure this is because she is a woman, but I told her it was because she didn’t use enough sea jargon. I suggested that she do an impression of Popeye while speaking to the employees - not the cartoon, but the Robin William’s movie.
After a long series of arghs, and akakakak’s she was able to get what was needed. I had her on speakerphone at the office and my co-workers, near pirates themselves, made constructive suggestions like,

“Next time bring a parrot” and “Looks out olive”

A good time was had by all…

Now for the bad news. There was about 8 inches of water in the sub hull of the boat, mostly between the cockpit deck and the keel (bottom V part of the boat). To make matters worse the bilge pump is either not installed or not working. I am in the process of tracing back the bilge hose to it's source to find the pump. In the meantime I had to pump it out by hand using what looks like a big bicycle pump with a hose on the end. It was only 2 – 3 gallons of water, but it was still a pain in the ass.

I spoke to Matt about it in the morning, and he said that is it normal. With the almost constant rain we have had for the last week or two some water is bound to get in. He also said that if I don’t get a new bilge pump I will sink. I would like to avoid that.

So we can add 10 dollars in engine parts to the tally, and about 60 for a new bilge pump – this brings the total to about $2700 so far. Matt and I are scheduled to work on the boat on Wednesday night, if the weather holds.

Update: A quick update on Daniel Row. We are attempting to contact him, but the number I have is not working. I will keep you posted.

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