When Waves Turn Minutes to Hours


I had planned to write about sailing this week, and how not owning a car enables me to indulge in this rich man’s hobby on a poor man’s budget.

I own a modest 25-foot sloop that I keep in Hampden in the winter and Rockland in the summer, on which I have toured the coast from Port Clyde to Grand Manan Island in Canada. I was going to write about the logistics of getting to and from the boat without a car. For example, I can leave Bangor on the 7 a.m. Concord Coach bus, be in Rockland by nine, spend the whole day sailing, enjoy a leisurely dinner, and get on a bus back to Bangor at 9:30, arriving between 11 p.m. and midnight.

Sailing is the ultimate slower traffic. When I’ve got the boat trimmed just right in a fresh afternoon sea breeze, with spray flying and my crew laughing in exhilaration, it’s doing about seven miles an hour. Nonetheless, I do occasionally use it for transportation.

My parents live in Brooklin, near the Wooden Boat School. Without a car, it’s easier for me to visit them by boat in the summer if I have a couple of days off. I can make the trip west-to-east in about six hours with decent wind. (My record is four and a half, in the aftermath of Hurricane Earl a few Septembers ago.) The return trip usually takes a bit longer, but it’s doable in a day.

I was going to write about all this. I was also going to make the observation that sailing is perhaps a more enlightened hobby than say, snowmobiling or motor biking, because it relies on the wind rather than fossil fuels – though I recognize this as dangerous territory. I don’t want to criticize what other people do for fun. Besides, sailors aren’t pure. Every year I treat my boat with toxic chemicals, mostly paints and varnishes, and some of that surely gets into the environment. And I have a small outboard motor in case of emergencies, or just to get in and out of harbors when the wind refuses to cooperate.

But I’ll write about the joys of sailing another time. This past week I got the boat launched, and left on my annual trip down the Penobscot River and the west side of Penobscot Bay, with my son Rigel on board as crew. We left Hampden on Friday, in defiance of superstition, after pouring a shot of rum into the river to appease the sailing gods.

They were not appeased.

The wind was from the south, in our faces, but the outgoing tide was our friend as we motored down the river. We passed under the bridge at Bucksport, thinking about an overnight stop at Fort Point, or maybe Stockton Harbor. The forecast for the following day was for northerly winds, which would provide smooth sailing to Rockland.

But this afternoon, the south wind strengthened, pushing against the tide, and at the river’s wide mouth it became difficult to keep the outboard engine’s propeller in the water between the building waves. We decided to raise the jib and sail to Fort Point, a sheltered anchorage a few miles away.

We made about four or five tacks, and then suddenly something snapped, and the top of the mast and the sail were in the water, with the rigging all around us. It was my first dismasting. I hope it is my only one.

It took some scrambling to get the mess onto the deck and the motor started, and a tense hour and a half to get back to the public landing at Bucksport, where my lovely, car-owning girlfriend Lisa picked us up. At sea and on land, fossil fuels came to our rescue.

I’ll tell you what it feels like. If you have ever been in a car accident where you came out physically okay but your car, which you had saved for and picked out and driven with pleasure, was totaled, you know. Sleep comes hard that night even though you are exhausted. You wake the next morning hoping it was all a dream, but it wasn’t. You feel queasy, sick to your stomach, wondering what to do next, how you will pay to replace it.

The boat will sail again, though perhaps not this season. I will likely take advantage of the American car culture to look for a new mast. But I will never again leave port on a Friday.


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Hank Garfield

About Hank Garfield

Hank's writing has appeared in San Diego Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Downeast, Bangor Metro, and elsewhere. He is the author of five published novels, and is now seeking a publisher for his recently-completed novel, A Sprauling Family Saga.