Murder in Langley

Every February, someone gets murdered in Langley, WA.

And—every February– the good people of this Whidbey Island village put out the call for help in solving the murder.

They’ve been doing this for 33 years. According to mayor Tim Callison, the Langley Murder Mystery Weekend is the largest community-based murder mystery project in the United States.

On February 25-26, over 2,500 people registered to become amateur detectives and solve the crime.

This year, The Admiral (“Are you going to keep calling me that? And if so, do I get a hat?”) and I decided to sail up to the Port of South Whidbey, agreeably situated on the shore below Langley, and join them. Our good friends John and Kerstin Hilton came up from Portland to explore the weekend with us.

The event is scripted by one person and organized by many. While the Chamber of Commerce sponsors the event, and virtually all of the shops and many of the organizations in the village participate, there are also 34 players from the community who agree to take on roles for the weekend. It’s not small crime, let’s put it that way.

We had made a reservation at the marina in anticipation of the crowd, but found that the cruising crowd hasn’t quite caught on. There was plenty of available space. Once we settled our moorage, the Dockmaster handed us a clue in advance.

In order to play, one registers at the Chamber of Commerce. We had been encouraged to do so online “to avoid the crowds” and ensure that we could get one of the limited supply of custom printed T-shirts or hoodies. As we approached the Chamber, we found that the “will call” queue was longer and slower than the one for initial purchase. We took delivery of our materials (The “Langley Gazette,” a four-page newspaper detailing the crime stories, and a game guide map and ballot), and headed off for the fun.

“The fun,” as it turned out would come later. The first thing one had to do was navigate the crowds going in and out of small shops that were handing out clues—39 in all, including the one we snagged in advance on our way out of the marina. There was also a crime site that needed to be visited, and a Coroner’s Report, delivered live on Saturday noontime. and available later as a printed statement from “Murder Mystery HQ,” a/k/a the Chamber of Commerce.

It was a very busy Saturday. In addition to the need to negotiate the crowds lining up for purchases, lunch, and/or clues, one navigates around the 34 characters in the crime, who make themselves available for interviews. Eavesdropping on or participating in that activity is part of the fun (“How did you feel, Al, when you heard that your girlfriend Natalie was seen kissing your boss?”).

The fun appeared over drinks and dinner on our boat Saturday night, as we pooled our information and theories, debunked one another’s opinions, and formed new ideas.

We found out later, from one local, that the murder mystery always includes or paraphrases some actual events from Langley’s recent history. A theme in this years’ mystery for instance, pitted a “save the Sasquatch” organization against several hunters who were seeking licenses to kill or capture the beast. According to our source, this was referencing an actual controversy about how to handle a lone elk that had found its way onto Whidbey, and was heedlessly going about ruining people’s fences and gardens as it presumably sought its putative herd.

Our friends said their goodbyes after dinner, and handed us their filled-in ballots. We stayed for the second day of play and the final reveal on Sunday night.

When we woke Sunday morning, we decided that we had NOT solved the crime Saturday night, and needed more information. We made a list of characters to interview, and set about doing so after breakfast.

Sunday has the advantage of being less crowded: it’s easier to get to the shops, and the characters are more accessible for interviewing. One interview clinched it for us. We filled in our ballots and turned them in, with the better part of the day ahead for shopping and enjoying Langley hospitality.

Late Sunday afternoon, we walked up to the Langley Middle School, where we found a packed auditorium awaiting the results. Mayor Callison– unaccountably dressed in white evening wear– emceed the evening, announcing that the unofficial count of 2,800 registrants made this the largest group of murder mystery guests that Langley had hosted so far. From the requested show of hands, it was clear that people return to this event every year, and that there are a good number of newcomers every year.

The red curtain opened to reveal the full cast of characters. I.B Fuzz, the “Chief of Police” who was billed as the shortest ex-Texas Ranger, took the podium, and announced the solution. (“After ruling out our local suspects, it was pretty clear that one of our visitors did it, so…”) It turned out that our solution had been one of the 171 correct answers.

There are prizes for getting it right, of course: Every correct answer is eligible for a prize draw. After the first three prizes are awarded, the rest of the prizes are drawn from all of the ballots, so there are consolation prizes as well.

We didn’t win a prize, so we gave ourselves one: dinner at Prima Bistro. The small award-wining restaurant was awash with families and couples enjoying themselves and the French-inspired comfort food. The mayor and his wife were among the diners, so we complimented them on a job well-done. When he heard that we were boaters, he urged: “Come back when it’s warm and sunny.” There was nothing to gain by pointing out that, as full-time cruisers, the weather wasn’t as important as the passage and the destination.

When we returned to our boat, we were the only denizens of the outer dock, and a cold wind had picked up. On Monday, we set sail for home, secure in the knowledge that we had solved the crime and scored a great weekend with friends. Langley is safe.

For now.

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Who Ya Gonna Call? (3 pf 3)

While the 2008 recession hit the entire boat business, Hunter hit the hard times harder than most, largely because their powerboat segment was bleeding their sailboat business dry.

Hunter took their business into a Chapter 11 re-org, and John Peterson, the Hunter CEO, offered Sailboat their parts business, so they could concentrate on building and selling boats and still provide support to current owners.

Hunter provided Sailboat with both data and support, and transferred their parts calls directly to Sailboat Owners. Phil calls that transfer a “steep learning curve,” which was helped when they hired Hunter’s Al Fooks. With 23 years of customer service and warranty repair experience, Al was able to help Sailboat Owners get up to speed on the large Hunter customer base and the large number and variety of production models out there. That’s not been without its problems: even today, “people confuse Sailboat Owners with Hunter, and call us for tech support.”

Post-recession, more challenges arose, along with increased competition. “We have had to reinvent ourselves several times,” Phil admitted. “Amazon jumped into the chandlery business. West Marine, Defender, and host of others created online stores. And consumer purchasing changed from discovering things to finding the best price for things.”


A Hunter Legend 40. Notice the tricky little legs at the base of the stanchions?

With a huge base of older sailboats out there and fewer people who sell and service them, the Sailboat Owners parts business has changed yet again. “We’ve become archeologists,” Phil says with a chuckle. “Many of these sailboat parts were custom built by small fabrication shops that aren’t in business anymore, and even the patterns have been lost. We had to hunt them down, or re-create them.”

The Hunter Legends, for example, were built from the late 80’s to the mid-90’s. They have stanchions “so tricky” that normal fabricators won’t make them. Sailboat Owners created patterns for the stanchions and other parts with similar particularities and commissioned production. Sailboat owners was back into the manufacturing business. “We’ve come full circle,” Phil comments, “creating a viable business model with custom parts. Only now, no large online chandlery is likely to follow us there.”

Sailboat has a great relationship with the owners of older sailboats. Users of the forums often refer their peers to the online store. “The owners need us, and we need them,” Phil points out. “We tell them, if you can’t get information about it from other owners on our forums and you don’t see it in our catalog, just ask us. We’ll find the part, or something to replace it. That part of our business is something we wrestle with all of the time. We probably spend more time on the phone doing troubleshooting with owners than we should. But we do it anyway. That’s what it takes to keep people sailing.”


Checking out the new strut

That’s the guy I called. I ended up speaking with his associate, Dave, who swiftly told me that he had one strut left on the shelf, and went to grab it himself. The next day at noon, the new strut was in the hands of Dean Bozak, who confirmed that while the replacement didn’t match the bent model (cf archeology comment, above), it did hold the propeller shaft at the correct angle, and matched the hull attachment hole pattern. By noon the next day, we were inspecting the installation. A few hours later, Selah was afloat. The next day, The Admiral and I were on our way to Canada.

And we went on our way, deeply aware of how many people it takes to keep the two of us sailing.

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Who Ya Gonna Call? (2 of 3)


Ok, not outside the Baths. But look at all the pretty boats. That’s what Phil saw.

To understand the next part of this story, we must to travel back in time. It’s the 1980’s, and Phil Herring is at the Baths on the island of Virgin Gorda, that iconic wading grotto familiar to anyone who has cruised the British Virgin Islands. At the time, Phil is a Seattle-based ad man who is there on business, working with a Seattle client who leads cruises there.

When Phil saw the sailing vessels anchored outside the Baths, he was smitten. After he returned to Seattle, he enrolled in sailing courses, and persuaded Bly Berken, a long-time friend, to buy in with him on a Hunter 35.5.


And inside the Baths? Happy people…

We now fast forward to 1996: the Internet is just getting traction as a vehicle of information and a place of commerce. Phil’s ad agency is staying on the leading edge of that, persuading their clients that they can use the Internet for marketing and sales. Phil is now spending a lot of time online, which is by itself, a concept that has just become possible. The rest of the time, he’s sailing.

At this point, Phil owns, and later will live aboard, a Hunter Passage 42. Not everyone lives in Seattle, where there is a thriving designing, racing, and cruising community. Just about anything you’d need for any boat can be found within a five-mile radius of the Seattle’s Ballard Ship Canal. In his off time, Phil begins to wonder: how could the Internet help boat owners like myself?

When Phil looked online, he saw nothing there that would help him maintain and repair his own boat. Just to see what would happen—and because he could– he built a website called and plugged in a “forum,” which allowed users to create their own open conversations on a topic of their choice. The interface was clunky and required some savvy to use, but it was there.

Phil let the site simmer a few weeks- actually, he sort of neglected it– while he went on vacation. When he came home, his voice mail was full and the forum had blossomed in users and traffic. For the first time, Hunter owners from around the world could now talk to each other about problems, challenges, and solutions, and they seemed eager to do so.

And as Phil read the questions, he saw an opportunity. Every sailing boat is a complex assembly of systems: hull, deck, rigging, spars, anchors, sails, engines, toilets, refrigerators. There are systems to get water out of the boat, and systems to bring it in. And these systems are themselves assemblies of idiosyncratic components built by many different companies. Some of these components are manufactured specifically for marine use, others are adapted to it. If you’ve been boating for any length of time, you are already familiar with this, perhaps painfully so.


Autoparts: Just as bewildering. Except….

Walk into any automotive store in search of, say, windshield wipers. You’ll be directed to a large book that names the make and model of your car, and leads you to the appropriate part. You do not need to know which manufacturer originally made the part, or call the dealer or the factory to locate it. Now: try to do the same for the stern light that your boat came with, because some misguided skipper hit it with his anchor.

That disparity was Phil’s “aha” moment: Nobody was selling boat parts by make and model. The best you could do was contact the boat builder, and talk to someone who was there when your boat was built, assuming they remember or know how to locate the origin of the part.

This was a job that the Internet could do better. And a way into the marine business, something Phil had been yearning to do.

He persuaded his friend and partner Bly to quit advertising with him. Together, they started Sailboat, supplying parts to sailboat owners via the Internet. “We had to feel our way along in the early days,” Phil commented. “There was nobody to copy. Custom canvas was an early success. We thought custom parts would be the way to begin.”

“One of the reasons we began with custom work was that we had a hard time convincing the parts suppliers that the Internet was a viable method for selling marine parts. Yanmar, for instance, just laughed at us. They said, ‘we’re not going to sell a Yanmar part unless we can have a direct conversation with the buyer.’ But by the early 2000’s, a number of distributors –including Yanmar–recognized what we were doing.” Sailboat became an online chandlery with 40,000 items, adding Catalina and other sailboat makes to its online catalog.

Meanwhile, the owner forums on Sailboat multiplied in number and specificity. In addition to providing forums that encouraged and enabled owners of similar boats to talk to one another, and post their own modifications or work-arounds, the site began to feature Q and A’s from guest experts: Rodd Collins, the marine engine and electrical specialist, and Peggy Hall, whose expertise in marine sanitation systems has earned her the sobriquet of “Head Mistress,” became regular contributors. New owners with old questions would be referred to materials that these experts have posted on the forum years before. Sailboat Owners became a resource and a reference point, as well as a discussion host. And one click away? A parts store catalogued by sailboat make, model and year.

Then the 2008 recession came along, and Hunter’s hard times became Sailboat Owners opportunity….

In part 3 of this blog, how Hunter’s hard times became Phil’s opportunity.

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Who Ya Gonna Call? (1 of 3)

When you take your boat for a sail, everything it does has at one time required the presence, attention, and craftsmanship of hundreds of people. When something goes wrong, you need to know how to fix it yourself, or who to call for the right part or expertise. You may be a great sailor and a combination mechanic/rigger/electrician with McGyver capabilities; it’s still the work product of those hundreds of people that keeps you sailing.


Up she goes….

Just prior to a planned six-week cruise, The Admiral and I discovered that our 2009 Hunter 36 sailboat had mysteriously developed a bent strut, the metal piece attached to the hull that holds the propeller shaft at a constant angle.

Fortunately, we were on the hard in Port Townsend Boat Haven, a veritable treasure trove of excellent boat craftspeople. We went to Port Townsend Shipwrights Co-Op and


The cracks in the strut

found Dean Bozak, a propulsion expert and experienced worker in bronze, to straighten it. A day later, Dean delivered the bad news: our strut was just too cracked to adjust. We would need to replace it. There was no replacement in Port Townsend. He suggested calling Hunter’s Florida headquarters. I knew that was not the answer; Hunter had changed.

The recession of 2008 hit Hunter hard. The company struggled to stay afloat, re-organized itself, and eventually was purchased by David Marlow, a well-known builder of custom powerboats who also loved to sail, and had great respect for Hunter sailboats. Marlow re-branded the company as Marlow-Hunter, and changed its philosophy and methodology, reflecting his own interest in building higher quality boats, using Hunter designs as a departure point. Hunter Marine’s founder Warren Luhrs, by contrast, had created a company that built affordable cruising boats for the US middle class. At its peak, Hunter was producing 800 sailboats a year, and distributing them to 37 dealers to show and sell. Marlow-Hunter, by contrast, is happy to build 200 boats a year. These are now created from production models for specific customers by order through one of 17 dealers.

This change in the market should not come as a shock to anyone who currently cruises on their own boat, or who is in the market for one: For someone who is buying their first sailboat or seeking to upgrade on a middle-class budget, the best price-point values are found in well-maintained older boats. And a well-maintained boat implies access to parts, service, and the hundreds of craftspeople who provide them.

This is not a new problem: plenty of boats that have had a large production base are no longer being made. But it is an increasing one, since the 20-odd year production base dating from the 1980’s to the 2000’s is huge. More and more sailors are facing the question: Now that your boat model is no longer being produced, where are the support systems that will help you to keep your boat sailing?

Our splashdown in Port Townsend was scheduled in two days. If we did not make it, I was told, the schedule was crowded. We would go on a waiting list. Dean told me that if we wanted to make our splashdown time, the new strut had to come in the next day. Fortunately, I knew of someone who had been preparing for just this kind of moment for over 30 years. I called Phil Herring, at Sailboat He’s on my list of people who keep me sailing.

In part 2: Why I called Phil

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Joy of Discovery: Island Food

Part of cruising is the joy of discovery. The Admiral and I just returned from a six-week cruise to Desolation Sound, and explored places we had never been. There is an anticipation each time one rounds a headland or correctly identifies an island from its outline on the chart. And even though we had many more resources than M. Wylie Blanchett’s Coastal Pilot, there is a particular pleasure in discovering that the description of the approach matches the reality of making it.
Perhaps it’s the French blood in me, which still cries out for fresh bread with its morning café au lait, but one of my joys of cruising is the joy of discovering local food, or at least locally prepared food.
On Cortes Island in Desolation Sound, for instance, I bolstered our coffee stores with a bag of “Betty’s Beans,” (roasted on the island, grown elsewhere). But as coffee aficionados know, the roaster’s art is an important part of the process, and the task even more delicate and time-critical than the winemaker’s. We used our last scoop of Betty’s three days ago, and we’re sorry to see that last cup of mocha java disappear.

I replacedCoffee and Bread it with some beans from Saltspring Coffee Company in Ganges. On a previous trip through Ganges, we discovered that the company used to roast on the island, but the powers-that-be objected to the smell, and the company was forced to move that operation to Richmond, BC, on the mainland. That story continued with the news that the Richmond facility now is able to roast enough coffee to supply outlets throughout Canada. I still think of that coffee as being “local.”

Saltspring Coffee Company’s motto, “Believe in being better”, is classic island commerce: it comes with a philosophy. There are island enterprises without them, of course, but most have some sort of vocation attached, a distinctive raison d’etre that penetrates to the people who have come there out of some purpose, either lost or found, and underlies their work and its product.

Salt Spring Wild, for instance, makes classically dry and semi-sweet hard cider, made from heritage apples and other fruits on the island. But the second paragraph wants you to know more: “Owned and operated by a philosopher and a stone sculptor…” The cider is excellent, but on the island, it’s not just about the food, is it? It’s about the source ofSalt Spring Cider inspiration.

All of these foods are experiences that arrive with their own narratives of provenance.
Island resources are not as plentiful as those of the mainland, and that is part of what makes the concept so attractive: there is ordinarily a simplicity in the making of the food. There’s also the fact that if one is producing food for one’s fellow Islanders, one can follow one’s own idea of what that food should be. No one is holding endless focus groups to determine how much sugar should be in one’s jam, or which label would be more competitive on the wide shelves owned by a national supermarket chain.

If you stop in to the General Store next to the ferry dock on Shaw Island, you can buy “Monastery Cheese,” made bMonastery Cheesey the Benedictine monks whose disciplines include a component of work. The cheese is made with raw milk from their Jersey cows. If you like, it comes with a short history of religious life on Shaw Island, delivered by the storekeeper. In the mouth, the cheese itself is a joyful simplicity that cuts through the complexity of a cheese plate delivered in a high-end tapas bar, and reminds one that there is milk and there are cows, and people who care to convey that to you through their labor.
Since the Admiral and I have begun cruising full time, I discovered that fresh bread is easier to keep on board, but harder to keep fresh. Luckily, islanders need bread as well, and there are bakeries to supply that need, and therefore, my own. My general observation is that the smaller bakeries are the ones that will yield the more toothsome bread. I rarely did well by shopping at the marina stores or supermarkets, both of which tend to supply bread that is preserved well and generally appealing. This meant seeking out a bakery. On Galliano, we rented mopeds in Montague Harbor and discovered the Trinconmali Bakery, which had a marvelous multigrain sourdough bread.

Towards the bottom of the Malaspina Inlet, we had an excellent lunch at the Laughing Oyster restaurant, and I remarked on a baguette that they served with our lunch. My server informed me that it is ordered from Victoria, intentionally arrives less-than-fully-baked, and is then finished in their ovens before being served. Would the proprietor sell me a loaf? She would. The next few mornings board Selah were redolent with the fragrance of bread being finished in the oven, as the coffee brewed. Not a bad way to cruise.

While we were in Montague Harbor, we stopped in at the Crane and Robin, which bills itself as a restaurant, and has replaced the café connected with the small marina there. It was hot, and we asked for some salsa and chips to go along with our cool beverages. The freshly-cut salsa immediately declared itself as original. We were told that the salsa is hand made by the chef, contains capers and is heated with house-made horseradish. No amount of cajoling could pry out more details from our server. We were informed that this was a matter of matrimonial loyalty; the chef was her husband. On another visit to the same establishment, it was cold and rainy. The Admiral ordered their ginger miso pho, which was another improvement on the expected, as were the roasted curried cauliflower tacos with house-made hummus.

The clientele at the Crane and Robin is local; it just happens to be in a marina. This is part of my point: the originality inherent in each island presents itself in the local food. An observant cruiser will find it, and, one hopes, delight in their own discoveries.

I would love to hear about your own.

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Reading the Signs

This is a story about cognitive retention for cruisers, and possibly, a bit of a warning.

We’ll begin with a scenario. You’ve been on the water for, say, six hours, and you’ve arrived at your destination, a small port town with an anchorage area and a town wharf. It’s 4:30 in the afternoon.  The anchorage is sparsely populated, and the moored boats give a visiting vessel plenty of room from which to choose a secure anchoring spot. You drop the hook, ensure that it’s secure, and begin to think about dinner. You and your crew agree that a dinner ashore might be nice. Nothing fancy, mind you, but a draft beer and some fish and chips would be mighty nice.

So you lower the inflatable dinghy and take her to the town wharf. There’s no other option, really: There’s no beach to speak of, the town is built right to the water’s edge, and the only other dock in sight is not connected to the town and clearly private. Off you go.

There’s always an odd spot to tie one’s dinghy, even if it’s on a cleat that carries someone else’s painter or dock line, but in this case, you actually find an empty cleat on the single dock, in between some larger vessels, and tie up there, ensuring that your dinghy and its outboard won’t be thrown against its new neighbors.

Alright, it’s 5:30PM now, and the crew is hungry and thirsty. Let’s get into town and find “the local” before thirst drives a mutiny. Up the ramp you go. It’s a bit of a walk into town, so turn left at the head of the ramp, and move smartly down the wharf towards the shore.

You saw the sign, right?

Well, you saw a lot of them. The bright yellow “not responsible for storm damage to boats” one stood out from the espresso sign, you remember that. The wind’s scheduled to pick up later, but we’ll be taking the dinghy back to the boat, so no worries. Let’s get dinner. Off you go.

OK we’re back. Lovely meal, nice tavern, good food, cheery wait staff, discreet television presence. Not crowded, so one was able to have a meal in the decent interval of an hour.

What’s this? Someone’s left a note on the dinghy. Did it do some damage after all? No, wait- it’s a bill for $5, scrawled onto a moorage fee envelope, which is in turn stuck to your dinghy with some cello tape. You’re a bit confused. You’ve just spent close to $60 in the local, tipped the serving staff well…. one has done one’s duty as a cruiser coming to town, why is one being billed for the privilege?

Just as you and your crew begin to discuss what one should or could do under such circumstances, a woman comes striding down the dock, and verbally demands the payment. Turns out she’s the Dockmaster, and there to enforce the town rules. It’s then that you remember the other sign:

Courtesy for boaters dining or shopping in Coupeville temporary (max 3 hrs) moorage after 5PM $5 regardless of boat length.

Dockmaster declares that this applies to one’s dinghy. If one has a problem with that, one should take it up with the Port of Coupeville directly. (One has. With stunning silence serving as reply.) In the meantime, you owe $5, and the hand of authority is outstretched, palm up. Skipper has a fin in his pocket and hands it over. Dockmaster decamps.

Now, it’s certainly courteous to allow a 30-foot or larger vessel to tie up temporarily at their own risk for as much as three hours. That’s less than a penny per hour per foot.

But that is thIMG_0015e first time that any town, anywhere in the greater Puget Sound, has charged this skipper for the privilege of leaving his dinghy in a spare space on a designated public wharf in order to spend money in said town.

I really enjoy Toby’s Tavern. It’s a shame that it’s located in Coupeville. Or a shame that we didn’t stop there for lunch.

Before 5PM.


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My Boat, Afloat

rounding the mark

rounding the mark

I went to the Seattle Boats Afloat Show last week, in the middle of a beautifully sunny Seattle September weekday. Banners were fluttering as the couples removed their shoes at the dock and padded aboard to admire the open space below decks, followed by the encouraging murmurs of brokers who opened clever cabinets and extolled the galley and saloon space.

I made a beeline for the sailboats and made the rounds quickly (still have the land job, after all), greeting my friends at the various venues, and going aboard whatever they had hauled through the Ballard locks and were (as I discovered) paying through the nose to exhibit.

Two days later, I went sailing.

This was a singlehanded journey on Selah, our Hunter 36, going where the wind and current would take me best, which in this case had me charting a course south, from Elliott Bay Marina to Quartermaster Harbor off Vashon and (technically) Maury Islands.


The Admiral

Now, like most sailor/owners, I’m in love with my boat. I could tell you why, but it would be like telling you why I love my wife (a/k/a The Admiral). That kind of love is personal, idiosyncratic, and  universal, all at once. You would learn more about me than my wife, and whatever you learn is not likely to help you love your Significant Other.

Selah and I have been together for almost five years, and I’ve sailed her under a lot of different conditions. While the Admiral and I did not quite buy her at the dock, she was brand new. I didn’t notice her chief virtue until we did a shakedown sail with our broker. Unlike the C&Cs that we had chartered over the years by choice, the Glen Henderson designed Hunter 36 keeps her center of effort amidships. She shows a stubborn streak when she’s over powered. She doesn’t threaten to dump you in the drink, (or vice-versa) in a fit of pique. She leans, makes leeway and slows down. With the deep draft keel and the bulk of her sail plan right above it, Selah performs well in heavy air and building seas, and she’ll swiftly and patiently teach you what canvas and trim will keep her smartly tracking forward and making way. She’s also light, which means that you can take your non-sailor friends out for an evening in 5 knots and give them that “summer evening cruise” experience that they’ve all imagined. You know, the one where the water burbles under the transom, and the three-degree heel sets the ice a-tinkling in one’s vodka tonic, without spilling it. “Light” also means that when the Strait of Georgia decides to send you successive waves from three directions, Selah needs attention to stay on the desired course. All of that, I have decided, makes her the perfect cruising boat for me in these changeable waters. And although she’s what I used to call in my youth a “Tupperware boat,” that takes her out of the high-maintenance category, which suits me fine. The Admiral and I like spending time with Selah, but we prefer that it be sailing, as opposed to sanding, time.

Given all of that time together, I’ve come to know Selah‘s moods. A sailboat shows her personality under different conditions. I’m convinced that they come alive under the wind and in the seaway. If you think that’s over-romantic, the next time you raise sail and cut the motor, or just catch the wind as you leave the dock in your sailing dinghy, take a moment to feel the boat with your body. Think less about what you need to do to get her underway, and more about how she feels when she’s there.

That’s what I was doing, making southerly progress down the east side of Vashon in a 15kn northerly. Each gybe felt like a conversation, each tack a different topic. At one point, the 15kn wind petered down to 7knots. We slowed right down, on a starboard tack with a sweetly agreeable rhumb line. I pulled out more canvas, set the wind pilot on, and leaned against the side of the cockpit in the warmth of the afternoon sun, my cheeks burning as the sun winked diamonds at me across the water. We lost time in sweet silence, Selah and I.

On the next gybe, the wind built to 20 knots, and she started careening a bit. I looked over my shoulder and it seemed serious about staying that way, so I pulled her around into the wind, cajoled her into staying there for a bit, reefed her, and turned her back on course. We had an exciting discussion, between the wildly gyrating sheets there, and once we turned back down she picked up to hull speed. She may not be temperamental, but she’s not a boring boat.

I rounded the point. In our reefed state, we  chuckled at the gusts that the southern bluffs shot at us, proceeded up the channel, and dropped anchor in Quartermaster with just enough wind to set the anchor. I then went below to prepare myself a few appetizers and the traditional beverage of Safe Passage Celebration.

nav table small

Selah: the nav station

The Admiral and I agree that below decks, we like a boat to let us know that she’s a boat. On Selah, there’s plenty of warm cherry wood, where the weather won’t wreak havoc with the finish. Underway, you won’t find yourself staggering from port to starboard before you find a handhold. That’s what greeted me, once I had cleaned up the lines and the fenders that I had thrown down there in my single-handed haste. We had a fine evening.

Just because one is singlehanding does not mean that one is alone. On my way back up Colvos Passage, I talked on the radio and crossed wakes with a few of the folk who have shared dock space and anchorages with Selah over the years. On the eastern side of Blake Island, the northerly was now NNE at 18knots, and my marina home was 30 degrees off of that to starboard. Canvas out with a small reef, and I was on my rhumb line. (It’s all roller and in-mast furling, so we go “out”, not “up”– I’m not going to comment except to say that we like being able to reef in a hurry, even if we’re doing it early.)  A Beneteau fell in behind me, but Selah was in her favored port-tack upwind groove, and in no mood to play hopscotch with a Beneteau. In the middle of the Sound, the wind predictably built to 20, and our weather helm increased. A quick downwind adjustment of the traveler fixed that. Later, with the wind went down to 11kn and the Bennie (still in the 20kn of wind) starting to gain on us, I “shook out” my singlehander’s safety reef, and Selah brought us home in fine time, and with the full afternoon sun, in a fine mood.

The Admiral’s chief boat show joy is checking out the design assumptions of a display boat, above and below decks, and comparing them with the ones that helped create Selah. We’ve had some interesting discussions, over the years, about what we see, what we don’t like, and what we like. Her version of “three-foot-itis” is: “show me a 39ft boat that uses its three additional feet as wisely as Selah uses all of her 36 feet, and you’ll have my interest.” We came close last year, but it was an additional five feet and came with sailing trade-offs that we just could not accept. Most often, going to the boat show is an exercise in finding new ways to love our boat even more. Not a bad time investment, really.

A boat broker friend of mine is fond of saying that his boats’ competition is not boats from other boat builders, it’s the RV trade, the second condo in the mountains. YStuartou can almost see that philosophy at work in new sailboat design and presentation: Cockpits designed for cocktails, saloons designed for parties on flat water, and crystal vases to accessorize your sail-condo-on-the-lake. While I see my friend’s point and can only applaud his enthusiasm for boat evangelism, I know that we’ll never convert those folks with a nautically-themed social space. We need to get them aboard, off the dock, and on to the water. Once they have the experience and the joy of journeying not on, but with a boat, some of them will surely want to own that experience for themselves.

It’s not boats afloat, it’s boats a-sail.

And the journey of joy and companionship.

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A Boy’s Own Adventure

“You’re not going out with Josh alone today, are you,” the Admiral asked, referring to my eight-year-old grandson. “It’s blowing 20knots in the Sound, and raining.”

I said something about deciding what we’d do once we got to the marina, but if I’m honest, I knew that we’d leave the dock. Even eight-year-old sailors need to be ready for any kind of weather. And practicing in it close to home was the safest way to prepare for it.

A year ago, Joshua and I made a deal: He would enter into an able-bodied seaman training course that I designed, and if he earned a passing grade or better, he would get his first knife: a sailing tool with a sheep’s foot saw blade, turnbuckle key, and a marlinspike. I posted the checklist of skills that he had to acquire in the main saloon of our boat.

The day of my conversation with the Admiral was day two of the course: learning how to handle our 36-foot Hunter under power. The course gave Josh some time away from his two younger brothers, and enabled me to give him something that he can own: the knowledge that he can be trusted and the ability to sail. Josh had already taken two classes in dinghy sailing with the excellent Sail Sand Point  school. He knew his points of sail and could handle his own Optima dinghy and Hobie Cat.

Our first training day had been in dead calm conditions, and he had acquitted himself well, especially in the area of situational awareness. Today will take it up a notch, I thought, as we pulled into the parking lot at Elliott Bay Marina. As Josh got out of the car, I noticed that he was leaving his rain jacket in the car. “I’m fine with my hoodie,” he said, in response to my question. I raised an eyebrow and zipped up my sailing jacket as we headed for the dock.

After going through our checklist and teaching Josh how to do an engine check, we cast off and I backed into the fairway. A quarter of the way up the fairway, Josh had coiled the forward line on the deck, and at my request, came aft. I handed over the helm, and told him to take us out of the marina while I watched for traffic. I sat next to him, the wheel a second away from my hand, but the result of the first day’s training was evident. He steered confidently, made 90 degree turns smartly and without haste, and left room for other vessels to pass.

It was gusty, once we got out. Josh reported 13 knots steady out of the south, gusting to 18, and I could see wave heights of 1-2 feet. We were at the tail end of an ebb tide, so we were being rolled around a bit, but nothing steep was in our way.  Josh added throttle to make progress. He began talking to himself, verbalizing the way good helm-persons think: “OK, the waves are a bit tricky here. The wind is pushing me sideways, let me adjust. No, not that way– this way. There’s power coming at us from starboard. I don’t think we’ll run into them…, definitely not.”

Today’s lesson was about stopping the boat and holding her into the wind, under power. Josh had to keep the boat into the wind for as long as he could, while making 0 knots of boat speed. The first time he attempted it, we got to 0 knots, and lost steerage. “What’s wrong,” I asked, “why can’t you keep her in the wind?”

“We’re in irons,” Josh replied calmly, his Sail Sand Point training kicking in. “If I have no water moving over the rudder, I can’t steer the boat. And look- now the wind is pushing us off course, and I still can’t steer.”

We did this four more times, as Josh learned how to read the wind on the water and adjust for waves on a course. At the same time, I observed some particularly black clouds grouping up to the west of us. That cell appeared to move north in this southerly wind, but it could just as easily side-slip to the east and into us.

On Josh’s fourth pass, I watched a Bremerton-bound ferry slip into the darkness that had enveloped Rich’s Passage. As soon as he had completed the exercise, I gave the order to take us in to the marina. Josh took us through 180 degrees as I went on deck to set out  fenders. I was surprised at how confident I felt, out on deck, with an eight-year-old boy at the helm of my boat.

Josh did a fine job of adjusting for windage while looking for traffic, and brought Selah behind the rock walls of the marina. In the fairway to our slip, I came aft, dropped the bitter end of the midships line onto the deck, and took the helm. “The wind just dropped,” he commented. “Well then, we’re just in time, my friend,” I replied, “Calm before the storm. Coil the midships line, and open the gate at the lifeline.”

As Josh coiled his line, I explained what was going to happen. I would slip the boat, stop her and as I stepped off, he would hand me the midships coil, go forward to the port bow line, and get ready to throw that line to me.

Everything went like clockwork.  I bent down and secured the dockline amidships, as twenty knots of wind came roaring across the boat, the heavens opened, and a downpour soaked us to the skin. Josh threw me the port bow line, and I threw the starboard line to Josh, whose soaked hoodie seemed to accelerate his half-hitch cleating ability. I met my grandson back under cover in the cockpit with some towels from the dry locker.

We celebrated his achievement with a couple of beers- root for him, Corona for me. (“These must be popular,” Josh remarked as he looked into the fridge, “There’s only one left.”) Then we quietly watched the rain run off of the boat.

It was only on waking the next day that I realized what Josh had given me: the chance to share a boy’s adventure again.




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All wet, all on purpose

“But what if you fall in?” The Admiral said. “I’ll never get you out!”

I took that to mean, “I will never be able to get you out,” but when one has just bought a 36-foot sailing vessel and has just finished attending an old salt’s “things you should know about hypothermia” seminar at the ever helpful Seattle Boat Show, one is at a loss to discern the meaning of many comments. The alternative (as in, “… and I will have no intention of doing so, even though I have just lovingly encouraged you to buy a boat that will enable us to sail into the sunset of our lives”) seemed too macabre to contemplate.

Four years later, Selah is equipped with five inflatable whistle- and light-festooned personal flotation devices (PFDs), both automatic and manual, more 50- 90-pound capacity children’s PFDs than we need for the five grandchildren, six orange Kapok PFDs that came with the boat, tethers for adults and children, a jackline system, a Novalift davit that serves double duty as a putative (wo)man overboard (MOB) and outboard motor hoist, two mandated throw cushions, a Lifesling II, and a keen sense of What Could Go Wrong from reading four years’ worth of “The Voice of Experience” columns in sailing magazines.

But we had never really tried it out.

So it was that we found ourselves poolside with 15 other sheepish souls on a recent Saturday afternoon, clad head to toe in “what you would wear for a day on the Sound” in 36-degree weather: long underwear, bib foulie pants, wicking long-sleeved shirt, long-sleeved fleece, foulie jacket, wool socks, sea boots and fleece hat — all of them wet from a spell under the pool shower. We were seated in the bleachers and sweltering in the heat of the Ballard Community Pool, all of us eager to hear what might come next.

It turned out to be Ben Braden’s mother, Mary.

Pooolside prep: Mary Braden explains the ground rules as son Ben looks on and the sailors get ready.

Pooolside prep: Mary Braden explains the ground rules as son Ben looks on and the sailors get ready.

I am sure that Ben introduced Mary, but she hardly needed it. At five-foot diminutive, in her no-nonsense black bathing suit, her quiet voice (“I’m not going to shout, and whistles are for lifeguards, so you had just better listen”) dripped with the multiple decades of her water safety experience with the Red Cross and the Girl Scouts and the Safety at Sea folk.

Then she told us to jump in: “No PFDs, just jump in — any depth of the pool, but you need to swim across and back without touching the bottom. Oh — and get out on this side when you’ve finished.”

Most of the class chose the five- to seven-foot depth. You never know. I let the Admiral go first; it wasn’t just the influence of my upbringing. Also, it was fairly crowded poolside. Once I saw how it was, I edged over to the deeper side, where a  few others had been and stepped off the edge.

Getting ready to take the plunge.

Getting ready to take the plunge.

Interesting: I actually floated. With the velcro closures at my wrists and ankles strapped tight, air pooled in the shoulders of my foulie jacket and my bibs. And swimming — even in sea boots that were rapidly filling with water — was, well, possible.

On my way back across, I thought I would try getting up on to the deck of the pool without benefit of a ladder.

That took three tries and a whole lot of kicking.

Back on the deck, Mary told us to loosen the velcro and jump in again. It was more difficult, but doable. Also, I think I strained a hamstring, trying to bring all that water with me back onto the pool deck without benefit of a ladder.

Poolside, Mary elucidated: “You all know not to wear cotton underneath that gear: It not only absorbs water, it loses its ability to insulate. But wool and, to a lesser extent, polyester fleece, has another problem: It is an excellent insulator, even when wet, but it absorbs a lot of water weight. Now: get your inflatable PFDs on.”

Ours had never been in the water, not since we purchased them four years ago.

I jumped into the water and immediately sank (This marks the last time I would forget to empty my boots of water before going in). I readied myself for the C02 explosion and immediately reassuring bob upwards. Instead, I felt a slow rise, and once I surfaced, found myself surprisingly… deaf. The inflated pillows had risen up with the PFD and were covering my ears. The second thing I noticed was my inability to go anywhere. The PFD was doing a great job of keeping me on my back, but was so efficient that it was all I could do to propel myself backward.

I now know why the standard MOB advice is just to keep warm and wait to be rescued. Once you end up overboard in an inflatable PFD, it doesn’t matter what sea state you find yourself in. You are going nowhere under your own steam, and anyone who tries to do so is wasting valuable calories. Just trying to find the zipper to my light and whistle proved to be challenge enough.

The class went on: We got back out, deflated our PFDs, jumped in, and inflated them by mouth. We buddied up and learned how to throw non-inflatable PFDs to a (wo)man overboard, who then put it on in the water using the roll technique. (Those orange Kapok vests that you see on the ferry? The ones that are sitting neglected in Selah‘s  lockers below decks? They’re the easiest to put on in the water.)

Then we tossed those Coast Guard-mandated throw cushions to each other and learned how to wear them so that the waves could not strip us of our floatation. (Mary’s invaluable hint: One leg through one strap, and the opposite arm through the other. So much for the cartoon drawings on those aircraft emergency information cards.) We learned how to conserve heat while afloat and how to scoop air into our clothing if we lost our pfd or went in without one. Inspired by the tale of a recent MOB rescue, we removed our sea boots in the water, filled them with air and used them as flotation devices.

Mary Braden adjusts a PFD in the water

Mary Braden adjusts a PFD in the water

Poolside again, Ben talked us through his own experience racing J/boats and explained how to disconnect the spinnaker from a halyard on a downed keelboat (“that’s probably the only reason she hasn’t righted herself”) and where to position the crew so that they will land up on deck once she rights herself.

But most of us were cruisers, and as we broke up into groups of four to work with recovery using a Lifesling, the couple with us shared the same concern we had: assuming that we followed the procedure and got the rescue line and float-belt out to our mate and putative MOB, could we get them back on deck? The men refused to voice any concern about whether their upper body strength would be sufficient. “I suppose,” one woman said hopefully, “my adrenalin will kick in.”

On my turn to be rescued, I swam out as far as the Admiral said and made appropriate MOB gestures. She threw the sling underhand as she had been taught; one stroke later, it was around me. Then she pulled. My simulated distress must have provided adequate motivation; my landward trajectory left considerable wake in the pool. (Perhaps it was just all displacement.) The Admiral pulled back with her legs bent and I found my hips on the pool deck. A simple roll from me and I was on the deck, waterlogged boots and all.

Later, the Admiral would pinpoint that moment as the most valuable of the afternoon: “All these years, I didn’t know if I could do it. Now I know: I can.”

We learned a great deal more that afternoon: Why the “help position” is important, how it can best function, how important it is to speak calmly and clearly with the MOB as you are working with them to bring them in.

The Admiral and I are changing some things about our onboard safety plan. Since we require all crew to wear a PFD and we keep those throwable square cushions in the cockpit (usually safe from the wind, under someone’s bum), we had never thought about the importance of having a spare Kapok PFD in our emergency locker to throw out in a man overboard situation, nor the importance of having to instruct someone on how to put it on in the water. We have one in our aft on-deck emergency locker, now.

Of course, we had only participated in a simulation.

In the locker room after class, Ben Braden pointed out that the odds are against one’s going overboard, especially for cruisers. “That,” I replied, “is nothing to bank on. We cruisers already bank on too much going right, too often.” Ben agreed.

I’ve seen the training videos of experienced Coast Guard swimmers hitting 50-degree water for the first time. I’ve seen and heard about the involuntary paralysis, the need to consciously breathe in the first few minutes. I understand that falling overboard in the Puget Sound or the Pacific Ocean is vastly different from consciously stepping into a 10-foot, temperature-controlled pool in Ballard, Wash. We could always learn more.

The Admiral: the water's fine.

The Admiral: the water’s fine.

We think we’ve increased our odds of surviving a bad situation.

The Pool Plunge Seminar is run by the Seattle Sailing Club. As non-members, we each paid a fee of $35. For information on participating in a future seminar, call or email Joe Cline, club manager, at 206.782.5100, Ben and Mary Braden also lead seminars in yacht clubs and other venues around the Puget Sound.


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Pass the Old Salt, Please – Part Three

“When people are about to go offshore for the first time, they go to seminars and read books to figure out how to equip their boat.”

“Then there’s the couple that saves up for years, buys the boat, equips it, and heads out the Strait down to Mexico, only to have one of them decide enroute that going offshore isn’t for them. They stay in Mexico for couple of weeks, maybe a month, fly home, hire a captain to sail the boat back to Seattle, and put her on the market. I hear that story all the time. If I can stop just one couple from doing that, then this course is worth it.”

“So let me just be blunt: You’re the weak link. Your boat is gonna be just fine out there, just the way it is, ‘kay? You? Maybe not.”


Mike Rice (c) in Equipping Teacher Mode


Seven of us were listening to Mike Rice, as he gave us our first briefing of a four-day venture into the open ocean. Mike runs the Puget Sound Sailing Institute, and the course is an accredited part of the American Sailing Association curriculum, but I was taking it for the experience. Also because my buddy told me: Mike’s an Old Salt whose knows his offshore stuff.

Mike may be from Tacoma, but he totally qualifies as a Kindly Old Salt (KOS), genus Seattlensis: Our boat briefing included detailed instructions on how to correctly brew french press coffee in the large thermos he had brought, with the freshly ground beans he had stocked. Mike might skimp on the quality of the cookies (his bulk store snickerdoodles became a running joke), but he never cut corners on the coffee.

I liked him already.

Mike has a drawling southern California accent and the leathery, tanned skin of someone who spends a lot of time on the open water. His briefing was thorough (cf “coffee, making of”) and patient, each topic punctuated by ” ‘kay?” that strange interrogative contraction which seems to have migrated to the English language via the San Fernando Valley. His teaching style was infinite patience, even in urgent situations. I could learn a lot from that alone (as the Admiral reminded me before I left). Mike displayed all of the humility of the KOS: If you had a better way of doing something onboard, he wanted to learn about it. But he was also a firm skipper: you coil and secure the lines his way.

Why are you here?

We were split into two watches, which ran in two six-hour day watches and three four-hour night ones. Mike wasn’t my watch captain, which meant that most of my underway instruction came from Mike’s fellow instructor and first mate, John Mulligan. John is a retired physician with a quiet voice, a matching demeanor and years of both inshore cruising and offshore passage experience. My fellow students were all ASA-accredited, with several courses under their belts. Most of us were from the PNW, with the exception of Dave, a commercial airline pilot from Dallas-Forth Worth. Mike only offers this course once a year, and this one was next on their curriculum.

Part of Mike’s briefing included listening as we explained why we were taking the course. The one couple in the group talked about their plans to retire onboard and make a Pacific passage someday. While the Admiral and I don’t have plans to do that, we have talked about going down the coast at some point, and I’ve got my eye on crewing for the Vic-Maui race one of these days. I hadn’t sailed on blue water since my teenage years, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to stretch my sea legs, especially with a couple of Old Salts.

I suppose I could have just signed on for crew duty on an offshore boat delivery — I have a number of friends who do that — but if and when I do something like that, I’d like to have more to bring to the situation, and I certainly don’t want to be the weak link. This was my chance to equip myself, and I was taking it.

The weather didn’t really cooperate

The course had us sailing west out of Port Angeles, down the Strait of Juan de Fuca, out past Cape Flattery, and a hundred miles into the blue water. Then we would turn around and go back. Not a cruising man’s itinerary. There was brief talk of the Barrow Islands — I saw John’s eyes light up at the prospect — but the lack of wind made that impossible to fit in to the time allotted.

My buddy came back from last year’s course with harrowing tales of gale-force winds and close-hauled tacking, while dodging heavy commercial and military traffic in the dark. That sounded like a good experience to me. Not my lot, alas.

We were sailing Passion, a 40-odd foot early Beneteau First. She was well-equipped and retrofitted with radar and GPS, but no chart plotter. The little hooded radar display was below deck, and while we could (and routinely did) read our position and heading off the GPS, all of our charting was done the old-fashioned way, with paper and pencil. My own boat is equipped with a full package of electronics including AIS, but I never missed it.

That said, I noticed that John liked to have one of my watchmates, who owned an iPad with onboard GPS and a plotter, cross-check our conclusions, especially when we were doubling back and forth across the sea lanes at night. But John wouldn’t allow it in the cockpit, except for a brief viewing: it had to be hauled out and put back just for the occasion. The course requirements include getting credit for a separately taught celestial navigation course; we did two noon shoots with sextants: one on the ocean, and then again when we got back into the Strait.

There are three kinds of teachers: The one who inspires you to fall in love with the subject matter, the one who drills you on skill or craft acquisition, so that you are equipped to deal with it, and the one who enables you to make the subject your own. The temperament and teaching methods vary for each; it is a rare teacher who can do all three.

Mike is that rare teacher. He listens closely, has an easy laugh and a good sense of humor, which he switches into a deliberate, slow intensity when he is instructing.

Cruisers develop a comfort zone

Mike loves to sail, and he loves to get you to fall in love with it. The students surrounding me had plenty of stories to back that up, and Mike himself, though not what I’d call a purist, never gave up the point of sailing in any and every wind. Motors were for docking in marinas and chasing wind. Sails were for forward movement. I watched him patiently trim a sail in a 3-knot breeze in order to get us out of the way of a bulk carrier that was bearing down on us. I would have keyed on the diesel immediately. That’s not Mike’s way.

That’s part of why I take these courses. We cruisers develop a comfort zone. We know what we can and can’t do, and we tend to sail that way. Experience and instruction stretches you, and gives you the understanding and knowledge to do more than you already are. If that extends your cruising, and gives you and your crew better experiences in more locations, there’s every reason to invest in it.

Our first afternoon, as we motored out of Port Angeles in one knot of uncertain wind, Mike glanced up at the boat’s wavering wind indicator and sighed: “Let’s just get out there,” he said. So we did our engine check and fired up the diesel, as night fell and we got used to our watch schedule.

Out in blue water with the motor finally silent, the six-foot swells pushed and pulled our boat on and off its tack and the boom swung in 2.5 knots of wind. Mike demonstrated that we were still catching some wind and making headway. Offshore, fuel is precious. You don’t fire up the diesel because you’re not moving fast enough. But more importantly, you came to sail: do that.

Three days later, we were back in the Strait at night, a bit early because the weather guessers had forecast 15 to 25 knots of westerly there. My watch was on and I was at the helm, which became heavy as the wind built to 14 and then 17 knots. Given the forecast, John woke Mike to come topside and teach us how to reef his boat. The equipping teacher came up into the cockpit, meted out the assignments, talked them through, made us repeat the instructions we had just received, and then watched us do it.

Reef secure and everyone safely back in cockpit, Mike then talked through what we had just done, and then, satisfied with what he had seen and heard, went back below to sleep. Classic equipping teacher strategy.

The next day, again on our watch, the wind died. With traffic bearing down on us, we had to shake out the reef, or start the dreaded diesel engine.

Mike came back up, called his watch up to witness the routine in reverse, and then began to talk about how we would reef and shake out in a ketch (“I honestly don’t see the point of that little scrap of a mizzen on a yawl, unless it’s to keep you straight at anchor”), and went through how it would work on my own in-mast furling sloop.

All through the four days, Mike kept in mind what boats we regularly sailed or aspired to sail, and routinely transferred whatever lesson was at hand to our own situation, often quizzing us before he taught: “Stuart, how would you do this on your boat?”


John Mulligan (r), watch commander

John was equally careful in his instruction. During lulls in the action, he would bring up a topic (“What’s in your ditch bag?”) or lead an informed discussion on onboard medication. In an attempt to use a new charting tool while we were navigating the sea lanes, I got a position and heading wrong. John just quietly pointed out the discrepancy between my chart and our surroundings and sent me back below to correct it.

Both Mike and John had those Old Salt traits: Quiet confidence, strict seamanship procedures and a positive attitude. On our second 0200-0600 watch, John mentioned that watch-keeping made for some petty peevishness: “It takes about two days into the passage,” he said quietly, “before the little things — what’s being done with the food, how the other watch comes on or goes off watch — threaten to drive you a little crazy. If you don’t deal with it, resentments build and it makes for an unhealthy crew.”

That’s when some of our opposite numbers started coming on watch late

At first, it was only ten minutes. But John was right — ten minutes in cold rain at 0000 hours feels like thirty. And thirty minutes feels like an hour.

John used it as an opportunity to build our watch morale: by the fourth day, we were whiling away the final hour of our watch by making and taking gentlemen’s bets on the actual time of final watch transfer and the quality and specific components of the breakfast that would be waiting for us.

At 25 minutes past scheduled watch change, we had decided that they would leave us a box of dry cereal on the galley table and let us forage for the milk. John actually joined in on the exercise, which only increased our morale. The annoyance had been diffused into joking. Mike, who was busy rousing his crew, must have overheard.

As it became clear that his watch (and our breakfast) was going to be at least 30 minutes late, his goodnatured face appeared in the companionway. “Good morning, guys. The good news is, we’re up and we’ve already got your breakfast right here,” he said, as he slid a jumbo box of Oreos into the cockpit. “We’re workin’ on the coffee right now,” he chortled, as he went back below.

Later on that final day, I got an opportunity to tell Mike how much I appreciated his style of instruction, and the whole course. “That’s great”, he replied, “Hey, I’m doing the Swiftsure race next year, maybe you’d like to join us?”

I can get a crewing experience with any number of yachts in that race, without having to pay for the privilege. Only one of them will have Mike aboard as skipper/instructor.

I’m already signed up.

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