By Christopher Birch
Lure of the Elizabeths Points East Magazine, June 2021 (2021 Boating Writers International award - 2nd place)
With clear skies and a light northwest wind blowing on the morning of May 6, 1778, 800 British soldiers stormed the beaches of Naushon Island, in the Elizabeth Islands chain just off of Cape Cod. The few resident islanders quickly surrendered and watched in horror as the redcoats marched the narrow island from east to west in a great line with interlocked arms, successfully flushing out 1,884 sheep onto the beach at Robinsons Hole. The hungry soldiers loaded the sheep into small boats and rowed them out to the HMS Harlem and the 16 smaller war ships that accompanied her.
The Brits got mutton for nuttin’ and the islanders were not happy about it. Maybe that’s why today, Elizabeth Island farmers raise heavier, more prickly beasts that would be harder to herd onto rowboats and abscond with. …
River of Riches A Journey up Canada's Saint John River Good Old Boat, May/June 2022 Cover Story
“My phone scolded me for taking only 548 steps yesterday,” I confessed to Alex, my wife.
“Yeah, but what it doesn’t know is that we also sailed 62 brutal miles up the Bay of Fundy, changed time zones, learned the metric system, navigated a waterfall that looked like a ski slope and became the first US citizens to sail into Atlantic Canada in nearly two years. That phone of yours is focused on the wrong tile in the mosaic,” Alex replied.
We were enjoying our morning cockpit coffee klatsch on the Saint John River under a sunny Canadian sky. The juxtaposition of this climate with the fierce Bay of Fundy, only five miles away on the other side of a reversing waterfall, is what makes New Brunswick such an interesting place to sail. Thirty-foot ocean tides are replaced with almost no tide on the river. Fifty-five-degree seawater is replaced with 75-degree freshwater. Bobbing seals are replaced with jumping sturgeon. Fog gives way to sun. The Saint John River is everything that the Bay of Fundy is not. …
Sailing by Old Dog Rules SAIL Magazine, March 2023
Sailing southbound on the Intra Coastal Waterway, I happened to tune in a Carolina swap show on the AM dial. Someone there was looking to trade three steel belted radial tires for a dog.
An intriguing proposition on so many levels! We didn’t need the tires, but a little part of me did like the idea of trading away our dog, Bill. He’s more of an albatross than a dog, and he makes our liveaboard sailing life complicated.
Bill is an eleven-year-old blue standard poodle. His favorite place aboard is under the shade of the dodger on the leeward side of the cockpit, preferably with a pillow to lean on. Everyone in sailing knows that’s the best seat in the house, and on our boat, Bill commands it with authority. He is the captain of the ship.
In the nine years we’ve owned our 36’ Morris Justine, Sundance, we have never gone sailing without Bill. In his youth, he handled the sailing motion well and moved around the boat with ease. He even once climbed the companionway ladder out of the cabin like a circus dog to join us for breakfast in the cockpit. (Bacon motivation.) But now in his elder years, his legs don’t work as well and he struggles to move around the boat when the boat is moving around him.
Fortunately, he’s trained us well and we stand at the ready to provide for his every want. “Bring me drinking water,” he commands with a paw, and we do. “Move me to the shade,” he insists with a huff and a nod of the snout, and we do. “Put a reef in for God’s sakes, Mate!!” he scolds with a cocked head, and we do. Swapping him for something would be a mutiny of sorts, I suppose, but sometimes it’s tempting. …
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A Eulogy for Bill Points East Magazine, August 2023
My wife and I always sail with our dog, Bill, but now he’s gone.
He was our third crew member for over a decade. He sailed with us to Canada and he sailed with us to the Bahamas. In fact, we never sailed our boat without Bill aboard. He weathered storms, savored the shade of the dodger, and delivered joy to beaches. He swam and swam and swam. He was always at my feet when I sat on the starboard settee with my legs up writing for Points East Magazine. That’s where I am now, and that’s where Bill is not.
Seals were his obsession. He would search them out, lock eyes with them, and howl a love ballad. The seals proved to be a receptive audience, and they would often stick around. More than entertained, they also seemed to appreciate the curious connection. It’s those eyes they have, so big, so expressive. Bill had the same sort of eyes. Brother from another mother.
Even when there were no seals around, Bill would still look for them. Sometimes he would stand and search in vain for over an hour. Maybe he could smell their presence. Or maybe he was just playing the odds; a hundred percent of the seals you don’t look for go unseen. So you better look.
Provincetown is one of the best …
Points East Magazine, May 2020
Overnight passage from the Cape Cod Canal directly to Penobscot Bay is a fitting start for a Downeast cruise – a big, bold, adventurous leap to a big, bold and adventurous place. In a fell swoop, you swap out the sand, dune grasses and warm water of Buzzards Bay for the bald eagles, extreme tides and spruce-topped granite cliffs of Maine. …
Knife Storage on a Sailboat Good Old Boat Magazine, Nov/Dec 2021
Everything on a boat must have its place—especially knives. The last thing you need in the cabin of your boat in a storm is a free-range, airborne knife. Both the household style knife block and industrial kitchen style knife magnet are ill equipped to hold knives adequately in rough weather. Tossing knives in a galley drawer feels like another bad idea. Loose drawer storage offers poor protection, quickly dulling sharp blades. Besides, that little drawer is already crowded with the wooden spoon, corkscrew, measuring spoons, whisk and lobster claw crushers, among other things. Finding a new home for the knives would free up a lot of much-needed space in there. …
You're a Grand Old Isle...
Points East Magazine, July 2020
When the smoky sou’wester abates, and the air is clear, a full array of color is on display in the late afternoon light atop Cuttyhunk’s Lookout Hill. There’s the red barn that takes its cue from the red cliffs of Aquinnah behind it, the blue water, the white sails, a crayon box full of boats in the mooring field, the 97 shades of green that make up the island itself, echoed by what looks like 97 more on Nashawena next door.
Once a year, on the Fourth of July, the show starts all over again after dark. From the unique vantage of Cuttyhunk’s mountain top, a symphony of fireworks comes together, crackling, soaring and banging over a vast two-state horizon as if conducted by the great bald eagle above. Regal Falmouth pumps gracious strains into the northern sky, while off to the west, Newport answers in counterpoint. Thousands of smaller, backyard displays strum and hold a resonating chord. Nearby New Bedford delivers the loud, bright, white ones quickly, while Menemsha sprinkles in some hues off to the east. The boats in the harbor all have their cigarette lighters held high above their heads in an anchor light solute of gratitude.
Mother Nature provides stars and fireflies by the millions. Not to be outdone, Uncle Sam trots out his regular performers too: Down at sea level, the wide array of enthusiastic red and green flashers proudly keep time, while Buzzards Bay Tower and Gay Head Light flash their winks of parental approval from their raised stature. It’s the moment they have been practicing for all year. …
Stalking the crew of the S/V Delos Points East Magazine, Dec, 2020
In the first 35 years of running my boat repair business, I installed exactly zero induction cooktops. Then one Monday morning two years ago, these ranges were suddenly all the rage. Three customers called me before I had drained my second cup of coffee, inquiring about having one installed on their boat.
I finally asked the third eager customer, “Why is there a run on induction stoves today?”
“It’s probably because S/V Delos just installed one and they were raving about it on Delos Friday,” she replied.
“What exactly is Delos Friday?” I asked.
“Do you live under a rock?” she inquired. “S/V Delos is this amazing sailing show on YouTube that follows this boat and her crew as they sail around the world’s oceans. They upload a new episode every Friday.”
So, I started watching. …
Early Spring Points East Magazine, March/April 2018
There we were: In an engineless sailboat, in The Atlantic, in December, in the snow.
Sea and sky were the same shade of slate. Light snow, further blurring the boundaries between frozen, liquid and gas. Koshare’s faded dirty whiteness blended into the scene unobtrusively. We had been paddling for hours, taking breaks from time to time to blow on our hands and watch the sea fill up with snow. It was day 4 of a 100-mile sailing trip, a voyage that could have been completed in less than 24 hours had the weather been better. The wait for wind, I concluded, was seasonally appropriate; there is supposed to be a lot of waiting in Advent. Morale was high despite the slow pace. The calm was a welcome change from the cold headwind that we had been fighting earlier in the day. The snow added an element of holiday cheer. The most significant mood booster, no doubt, was the fact that we had just crossed the halfway point in our trip. …
La Dolce Vita Points East Magazine, Sept. 2019
It’s funny how one job can lead to the next on a boat. You go to replace a bilge pump and soon find yourself also replacing its hose. Then the pump’s in-line fuse holder is getting swapped out, and before you know it, the cabin floorboard covering it all is out of the boat and on your workbench for a quick block plane trim and then varnish.
On a wooden boat, any job is a certain path to the next one. A wooden boat is more than just a plastic container for your bilge pumps, after all, and it’s not just stuck together with a bit of resin. Planks and ribs and keels and decks move and are known to need some tending to. On the wooden sailing yacht Dolce, the path from job to job was circuitous and exciting.
Dolce was for sale. She had been for years, but now her owner was getting serious. I maintained her and all her lovely varnish during the portion of her life spent on a mooring in Boston Harbor. Now my job was to deliver her to Newport, RI, where she would be featured in the brokerage show that runs concurrently with the Newport International Boat Show every year.
I Pimped My Toilet! Good Old Boat Magazine, July/August 2022
My father once offered me a sage piece of advice: Never get run over by the same trolley car twice. So when the handle on my toilet pump sheared off in my hand, instead of sourcing an identical replacement from the toilet manufacturer, I vowed to build a better pump handle myself. …
Hip Hugger Good Old Boat Magazine, Nov/Dec 2021
A mother often finds it convenient to rest a toddler on her hip. A mothership can benefit from the same approach when it comes to short-term storage for her tender. …
Boatloads of Shame Points East Magazine - Boston Harbor Currents Column January 2023
The three rules of life taught to every child:
1) Never lick a sharp knife.
2) Never cross a road without first looking both ways.
3) Never mix up your deck fills.
So how, after such enlightened indoctrination, could any sentient adult ever pour water into their boat’s fuel tank? Or fuel into their boat’s water tank? The deck fills are clearly labeled. Mixing them up is the most reckless and sinful mistake a person can make. And the results are dire.
Yet it happens all the time. I’ve known friends, customers, fuel dock attendants, and employees who have all stumbled into this nautical nightmare. I view their mistake as akin to criminal negligence. I sneer with contempt at each and every one of these hapless fools.
Then, last October, I accidentally pumped diesel into my boat’s water tank.
“Shame. Boatload’s of shame.” So goes the Avett Brothers song, and I can relate.
We’ve owned Sundance for nine years and have fueled her up countless times. Her diesel fill sits amidships on the starboard side, and prop walk sucks her stern to starboard when backing down, so we routinely pull up to the fuel dock starboard side to. But on this fateful October day, current and wind were such that it made sense to take a different approach to the fuel dock and land port side to. Sundance has an amidships water fill on her port side directly opposite the starboard side diesel fill. Both fills open with the same tool. I was distracted chatting with the fuel dock attendant while simultaneously tending to Bill the dog, who was active. The water deck fill cap came off. The diesel nozzle went in. And I pumped diesel into my water tank.
Sweet holy mother-fracking ever-loving hell! The moment I realized my error, I exploded in a rage of self-hatred.
♦ ♦ ♦
Okay, so the deed is done. Once you get past the chagrin and self-flagellation, how do you undo such a monumental mistake?
Step 1: …
Tetra Rendezvous 2022 Points East Magazine - Boston Harbor Currents Column December 2022
Like ketchup, fire engines and Carmine Hose, Tetras are red. Tom Hill built a white one once, but every other hull of this iconic Steve Redmond rowboat design I’ve seen has been painted red. I’m not sure how this tradition started, and why it’s stood up so well, but it did, and it has. Who’s ever seen a green Tetra? Not me. Red is just the right color for this boat. So, at the First Annual Tetra Rendezvous last June in Onset, Mass., the beach was covered in red boats. Three of them. …
Clothespins Points East Magazine - Boston Harbor Currents Column August 2022
My first sailboat came with clothespins. And little else.
The boat was a 1971 Tartan 30, and the previous owner turned her over to me broom clean. Every storage locker and shelf space in the cabin was bare. She was as empty as a frat house keg at dawn. She carried zero cooking equipment in the galley, zero equipment manuals on the shelves, zero tools anywhere. Nothing. Boat hook? Nope. Winch handle? Nope. Anchor? Nope. Sail ties? Nope.
The only ancillary thing onboard the boat was a purple Crown Royal bag with gold piping containing a collection of old clothespins. Also in the bag was a note on a folded yellow piece of paper that read:
Take proper care of these clothespins.
Treat them fairly.
A Colorful Occupation Points East Magazine - Boston Harbor Currents Column June 2022
In the course of my work as a launch driver, I came across lots of things floating in Boston Harbor. I found a pair of blue jeans. They were woman’s pants so I gifted them to my mother. The fit was a bit big on her, but she appreciated the gesture and wore them cinched up with a belt when she worked in her garden. I found a square black Russian rabbit fur hat that I wore myself while driving the boat on cool evenings. The biggest thing I found was a 40-foot sailboat floating aimlessly with no one aboard. I caught it and brought it to an empty mooring on a hip-tow. Eventually the owner was found, and he confessed to a lack of mastery of the art of tying a mooring line to a bow cleat. (Tip your launch drivers! One day, they may save your bacon.) …
Tetra Twins Points East Magazine - Boston Harbor Currents Column March 2022
My new friend, Dick Eldridge, just built a rowboat and Points East magazine is to blame. I’ve made mention of a favorite red rowboat in the pages of this magazine on several occasions. Dick read my ramblings on the merits of the design and decided that he too had to build one. And so he did.
Dick explained to me that his sweetheart likes to row. Trouble is, she found their old boat too heavy and difficult to drag back up the beach near where they keep her on Buzzards Bay. The idea of a smaller, lighter boat appealed, and Dick was determined to build his gal a better boat. He has a well-equipped shop, and at 90 years of age, he brought a wealth of experience with boats and building to the project…
All Craft Great and Small Points East Magazine - Boston Harbor Currents Column Feb. 2022
January, 1994 brought us Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding. In June of that same year, the White Bronco chase on the 405 had us again glassed to our TVs. It was an exciting time when the telecast of the day could sustain America. Sadly, it wouldn’t last. The newswire lost its wind, and we became collectively becalmed without a breath of a headline worth noting. Time dragged on for 27 years and nothing happened, it was boring.
Finally, 2021 rolled in and we had something to talk about again: The Ever Given, and all her 18,000 containers of cargo, was stuck in the Suez Canal. Millions of video games, sneakers, plastic toys, iPhones and pool noodles were late. Consumerism was clogged in the Suez drain. The problem was ridiculously simple, but the ship was unthinkably large. The ordeal became “must-sea” TV.
Mother Nature (not really taking her own self-interest into account) ultimately solved the problem for us. When dredges, tugs, oversized bulldozers and hundreds of workers toiling 24-7 failed, the spring tides stepped up and freed the ship.
On March 23 of this year, at 05:40 UTC, we will mark the one year anniversary of the great grounding, the tourniquet on trade, the Suez situation. It’s time for a moment of retrospection. Seaworthiness of sailor and ship used to be mandated by the great horns forcing passage through the Southern Ocean. What an ironic mercy those spring tides were for the ship who couldn’t steer straight at the short cut. …
The Blue Hill Bandit Points East Magazine - Boston Harbor Currents Column Dec. 2021
Sometimes those Boston Harbor currents float you right out the harbor and into trouble. On one such recent trip, my wife, Alex, and I steered our sailboat to a mooring at the Kollegewidgwok Yacht Club in Blue Hill, Maine. The greatest challenge of this place is pronouncing its name. Once mastered, it rolls off your tongue like magic. But if your radio operator is new to this party trick and also happens to enjoy a half bottle of rosé with her lunch during the bucolic sail up Blue Hill Bay, it’s good to know that the club launch can be hailed using the simpler moniker, “KYC launch.”
Blue Hill Harbor is a place where osprey breakfast atop Hinckley mizzen masts. Sheer lines are long, scandalously low and almost uncomfortably sexy. The active Atlantic one design fleet dazzles on the mooring and on the start line. The yachty banter at the launch dock on Saturday morning is all about where best to situate the weather mark for the day’s racing. …
The Lost Oar Points East Magazine - Boston Harbor Currents Column Oct/Nov 2021
An old salt told me the most dangerous thing on a boat is a clock, second only to a calendar. Pushing your luck with the weather at sea in order to meet a schedule on land is bad seamanship and Mother Nature is a hanging judge.
I ignored this prudent mariner standard recently and paid the price.
We were anchored in the serene protection of Hadley Harbor enjoying a lazy morning of reading in the warm September sun with the cockpit dodger protecting us nicely from a stiff northeast breeze. The close reach back across Buzzards Bay to our home mooring in Mattapoisett would be manageable in the 25-30 knot wind but staying in Hadley sure sounded a lot more comfortable. We had plenty of food and the forecast called for the weather to moderate the next day. At issue was a birthday party back on land that we felt obliged to attend. Scheduled for that afternoon, the party hung like a dark cloud over our calendar. …
Boston, We Have A Problem... Points East Magazine - Boston Harbor Currents Column Sept. 2021
“I just clogged up the toilet on the company plane and I need your help,” was how the scandalous text chain with my boat service customer started.
“We’re going to be up for another four hours. There is only one toilet on this thing and eventually some of the other five people aboard are going to need to use it,” he bemoaned.
“And what do you think I know about airplane toilets?” I texted back.
“Well, you know how to fix a boat toilet, and this doesn’t look much different,” he replied.
“You won’t be able to just plunge it. You’d need to systematically take that thing apart until you can find and remove the blockage.”
“Okay, let’s do it!” was his unjustifiably confident reply.
“Isn’t there a thing about tampering with equipment in the lavatory being a federal crime?” I asked.
“That just has to do with smoking,” he assured me. …
Chicken - Catch - A - Tory Points East Magazine - Boston Harbor Currents Column Aug. 2021
A recipe for when your crew and dog departed by car and you’re left to advance the boat toward home waters by yourself.
(The name conjures up an image of Ye Olde New England flair.)
Food is an essential component of all cooking projects. If a detailed inventory of the food locker aboard includes nothing more than a half bottle of rum, a half bottle of Tabasco and a half package of Nutter Butters, a provisioning excursion should be included in short-term route planning goals. Even if a grocery store is nowhere near any safe place where you might drop the anchor.
- 2 plump skinless chicken breasts (free range and low chem preferred)
- 1 bag of frozen corn
- 1 package of pasta noodles
- Tabasco – red (That green flavor is for people who golf.)
- 1 jar of pesto
- 1 bouquet of asparagus
- Beer (as much as you are willing to carry)
- Nutter Butter cookies (as much as you are willing to carry)
Step 1: Half fill a pot with Pink Top water and bring to a boil above max heat. (We have three grades of water on the boat: “Clear Tops,” which are virgin Poland Spring and precious; “Tank Water,” which is not so great; and “Pink Tops,” which are Poland Spring jugs that have been refilled with hose water at a dock somewhere and then had their caps scribbled with pink sharpie to distinguish them from Clear Tops.)
Step 2: While the water warms, cube your 2 plump skinless chicken breasts. (It’s okay if your cubes look more like little pyramids or little coffins—that’ll happen.) Drop all shapes in a frying pan. …
Larry Cannon Points East Magazine - Boston Harbor Currents Column July 2021
“Sécurité, Sécurité, Sécurité. Hello all stations. This is the Boston Harbor Sailing Club Race Committee. We will be holding sailboat races in Boston Inner Harbor from now ’til sunset. Race committee standing by on one-three and one-six for any concerned traffic.” This was the VHF radio announcement I made on Wednesday summer evenings during the 1980s. It was a race committee of one—and I was it.
One such evening, I got a call back from an inbound oil tanker. The captain explained that he was full, needed the deep center of the channel, and instructed me to corral my herd of sailboats to one side or the other. With the nonchalance of heedless youth, I surveyed the race course and told the man on the other end of the radio that the sailing fleet was widely spread out and that I thought he should just “pick a hole and make his way through.”
His was a big ship, like the size of the Ever Given. The captain put down his VHF mic and moved over to his horn. The five-short danger blast sequence looped continually. At the same time a plume of black smoke went up the stack and a swirl of white water formed at the ship’s stern as she revved up in reverse in an attempt to slow down. Panicked Soling skippers hardened up in a hurry with spinnakers backing. A young me sat uneasy in the RC boat with pad of paper on my knee ready to score finishes and doing nothing.
In the end, no sailors were run down and New Englanders got their fuel, but it hadn’t been a tranquil Wednesday evening on Boston Harbor. …
The Little Red Boat That Could Points East Magazine - Boston Harbor Currents Column June 2021
Back in 1999, my father built a rowboat. He named her after his granddaughter Heidi, who was born the same year. The boat has provided excellent service for our family and especially for me. I calculate she has been towed and rowed over 35,000 nautical miles, a distance equal to 1.41 trips around the globe at the equator. She is eager for more. At 22 years young, she is just now entering her prime.
All the memories she’s provided drift back to me when I have her up on sawhorses for paint in the spring. Most prominently featured are the hours spent transfixed by her dance on the tow line. She skips along back there mile after mile in the random chop, always doing her best to catch up. Weeks, maybe months, of my life have been spent contently gazing upon this happy futility. …
Nautical Math, and the Infernal Roll Points East Magazine - Boston Harbor Currents Column May, 2021
I find it odd how the math crowd refuses to entertain the idea of dividing by zero. Mathematics is the last place I would expect to find such a defeatist attitude. They say it can’t be done, but there must be a way.
These are the sorts of things that I think about when unable to sleep in a rolly anchorage: There must be a way to divide by zero. And there must be a way to stop the boat from rolling. We just need to work on these problems a little harder.
The roll always seems to start in the middle of the night. The current switches or the wind changes and what was a tranquil mill pond at sunset slowly morphs into a churning cauldron at midnight. Enduring the roll is my first plan. If I could quiet that manual bilge pump handle rolling back and forth in the winch handle bin, surely I’d be able to fall back asleep. Nope. Maybe if I had six more elbows or a way to fire my anti-log-roll muscles in my sleep, I could get some rest. But in my current bodily configuration, I’m stuck wide awake doing core exercises when I’m meant to be sleeping. …
The Fix-It Button Points East Magazine - Boston Harbor Currents Column April 2021
“If you could have any boat, which would you choose?” my son asked me.
“Easy choice,” I replied. “I’d take that new one with the Fix-It button.”
You may not have heard of this newfangled device. I think I first saw it on Reddit. It works like this: When something onboard breaks, you just push the Fix-It button and — boom! — it’s fixed. I’m pretty sure it comes as optional equipment from one of the Swedish boat builders. I bet they put it in that spot labeled “Spare” on the DC distribution panel. It would fit right in, take up very little space and you would hardly even notice it. If priced appropriately, I think it would be a fine feature to have. …
Horizon Job Points East Magazine - Boston Harbor Currents Column Midwinter 2021
In my daydream, I’m sailing a perfectly restored J-class yacht from yesteryear. Familiar faces dot the crew. Ted Turner is on the topping lift, Dennis Conner is down below making sandwiches and I am firmly ensconced at the helm. The wind is abaft the beam and thousands of square feet of spinnaker cloth pull us down the final leg towards the finish line just off palmy English Harbor, Antigua. We’re in first place, of course, with the lesser boats distant in our wake. The satisfaction of yet another horizon job settles over the yacht.
In my reality, I’m crouched under my 36-foot sailboat in East Boston scraping bottom paint on a bleak November day. The horizon is obscured from view. And nobody is making sandwiches. …
Outdoor Showers for the N.E. Sailor Points East Magazine June 2020
Several years ago, on New Year’s Eve, I made a resolution: For the 12 months ahead, I would never shower without a beer. There’s something about the yin and yang of hot water and cold beer that just works. I like drinking beer in the shower. And I thought keeping this resolution would make me happy, and that a happier me would be good for America.
Now, I should quickly point out that I’m one of those people who showers in the evening instead of the morning. I should also mention that I’m one of those people who showers infrequently. So, this resolution wasn’t necessarily a sure path to a 12-step program. Lastly, I must confess, like most of my resolutions, things fell apart quickly.
January 3rd dawned on time that year in Boston, and it was unusually warm. We were enjoying a January thaw and I decided to venture out into the boatyard in East Boston, get some fresh air and tackle a sanitation hose project. I run my own marine repair business, and I had many winter projects lined up on the boats that sat out there on the hard. On this day, I decided to swap out a broken holding tank discharge macerator pump on a Freedom 30 named Sundown.
I quickly found myself in my usual position: upside-down and backwards with my feet hanging out the top of a cockpit locker. One of the two hoses on this pump was putting up a fight. In this case, it was the big one that comes from the bottom of the holding tank. Channeling my inner Hulk, I eventually won the battle – but lost the war – with this particular hose. The holding tank, which I understood to be empty, was instead quite full, overfull in fact. The hose suddenly broke free at an angle pointing directly at my nose, and thanks to the great pressure in the overfull tank, the top half of me rapidly became covered in the bottom half of what usually lives in a toilet holding tank. It’s important to note here that when you find yourself inverted in such a situation, things that usually run down your nose, run upstream instead. It’s also worth pointing out that when both your hands are franticly working to extract yourself from a cockpit locker, they are not available to wipe your eyes. I remember making a hasty decision to delay completion of the project until another day.
I’ve heard of germaphobes who are afraid to touch a TV remote in a hotel room. I mused on how such a person would fare in a career in yachting as I made my dripping retreat through the boatyard back to my workboat. In yachting, if you aren’t picking toilet paper out of your eye, you’re probably pouring diesel in your ear. Those people who contort their bodies into a pretzel in order to sneeze into their elbow, who won’t touch a bathroom door without a paper towel, and who slather themselves in hand sanitizing gels, would struggle with every aspect of every boat project that I have ever known.
I tried to remember if all my shots were up to date as I dropped my lines and pushed off from the dock. This was a day where the Zen-master advice to “Live in the Moment” and “Be Present” was bad advice.
After an uncomfortable trip across Boston Harbor back to my shop on Long Wharf, and an equally uncomfortable trip on the subway back to my house on the outskirts of Boston (sorry about that fellow T riders), I arrived at the threshold of my home shower with a hard decision to make.
A dentist appointment was on my calendar for that very afternoon. I had already rescheduled it several times and they get so cross when you’re a late scratch, or worse yet, a no-show. So, there I stood on the threshold of my shower, thinking. With a sad heart, I knew the only thing worse than showing up to your dentist appointment with three-month-old used toilet paper, and the stuff that it wipes, in your hair, behind your ears, and down the back of your neck, is showing up with beer on your breath. Debate that in your head if you must, but remember this: dental people are focused on the mouth. I could put on a clean Red Sox hat – I have several – and my ears and the back of my neck would be mainly facing the back of the chair. Worse things have definitely happened there. I could splash my face with water in the sink without beer. That’s not showering and as such would not be a violation of my pledge. I wrestled with all aspects of the logic for a while and then finally threw in the towel on the whole resolution and bathed in the shower like a normal person with nothing more than soap and water. I put on fresh clothes and went to the dentist clean and on the natch.
While in the chair, I concluded that sailing and showering are close cousins. Water is an obvious common denominator, but the similarities don’t end there. Tight quarters, wet curtains and slick decks can be found in both locations. A cold-water shower is quite a lot like a storm at sea. And that little sliver of soap that’s barely enough to clean the other hand in the shower, is just as disappointing as that last drop of rum in the bottle on the boat.
When Aeolus wakes on the right side of the bed and conditions are fair, joy is near at hand in both venues. Ample hot water dumping down on your head in the shower and a warm, pulling breeze abaft the beam on the boat both spell relaxation in an intoxicating sort of way. To paraphrase Stephen Markley, life isn’t about where you start and where you end up, it’s about the sailing and showers in between. (The exact quote was “sex and sandwiches”; I dialed it up a notch to “sailing and showers” for the purposes of this discussion.)
The house I grew up in as a child had a solar hot water system. It was the 70s and my father explained that the Shaws in Iran had an oil embargo and because of that it was better for us to provide for our hot water needs with solar panels. I didn’t know where Iran was, but I figured it was probably out by Worcester somewhere with all the other towns with odd names that I was unsure about. An “Embargo” was a concept beyond my grasp, but I did know that Shaw’s was a supermarket. Exactly why that particular supermarket didn’t want me to have a hot water shower didn’t really add up, but when you are seven, you just sort of accept things. Besides, I did know that Shaw’s was a big supporter of Red Sox radio broadcasts, and as such they were to be trusted.
This was long before solar panels were common and I think my father built the system instead of buying it. It was a clever idea and I’m sure that in the decades since my youth the technology has improved quite a bit. Back in the day however, hot water was not always a guaranteed thing for me. As I remember it, if a single cloud drifted in the sky anywhere east of the Mississippi, the water rolling out of our tap more closely resembled what sloshes in the Bering Sea then what sloshes in a heated kettle.
My father wisely incorporated a computer in the solar system. It was a big, mustard yellow boxy thing with a red digital display that appeared stolen from the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Most certainly programmed in Fortran, it had a single fat button that allowed you to toggle through a variety of data points evaluating the health of the system. None of it made any sense to me except screen F3 where the temp, in Fahrenheit, of water one could expect on one’s head in the shower was displayed. A trip to the basement to confer with this machine was mandatory prior to any sort of bathing. I grew up knowing three important things: 1: Showering was only something you did when weather conditions were just right. 2: There was a supermarket out by Worcester that was uneasy about my access to hot water. 3: A smoking hot shower is truly something to be cherished.
This sort of childhood was excellent training for my boating life. A hot, fresh water shower has not always been readily available on the boats that I’ve sailed. I could write a love song about all the solar bag showers I’ve known. With a lifetime of experience, I consider myself a master at orienting these plastic sacks to the sun and at patiently waiting for the optimal moment to release water and bathe.
Let’s be honest though, after several days of salt and sun, what a sailor really wants is a long shower ashore. When arriving in a harbor where showering is known to be available, the first thing most sailors do is pack a bag with towel and soap and go search it out. An indoor shower in a marina is a fine thing. Some showers are better than others, though. A proper outdoor shower in summer is the best of them all. Luckily for the Points East Reader, an outdoor shower is only a short row away in several of our favorite ports of call.
Back in the chair in the dentist office, I told a bold-faced lie about how often I floss, then we continued on in silence and I had time to think. I reasoned that an outdoor shower after a day of sailing was perhaps the height of human accomplishment and definitely just as good as drinking beer in an indoor shower. The framework for next year’s resolution was slowly forming in my head. What a fine thing to think on in January! I started to compile a list, as one does while sitting in a dentist chair.
These are the top 10 places in New England where you can enjoy an outdoor shower after arriving by boat:
#1: The Mattapoisett Boatyard in Buzzards Bay. This is a gem. Outdoor bathing at its best. Featuring a natural woodsy vibe and plenty of hot water. “It’s Special.”
#2. The Coveside Bar in Christmas Cove, Maine. OK, this isn’t really an outdoor shower. But it’s a shower IN a bar, and that’s pretty cool. And you can take your dog. Nice.
#3: Any hose on any dock in Long Island Sound. Because its HOT down there. Also, it’s fun to “accidently” soak people wearing Yankees hats as they waddle past wrestling rods and reels on their way to their overpowered fishing boats, the Bronx Belle and the A-Scrod. (I’d do it again in a heart-beat.)
#4. Provincetown Marina. What an odd situation; Provincetown Marina is the only marina in New England where you have to pay for water on top of your dockage fee. What a deal! Like visiting the developing world without leaving Massachusetts! And yet at this very same facility, you can wash as many dogs as you want for as long as you want, using as much water as you want, in their nifty outdoor dog shower for no charge at all. Go figure.
#5. Buck’s Harbor Marina atop the Eggemoggin Reach in Maine. No shower has a better view. Sun streams in directly upon you. I always bring my hat. I take it off when I’m washing my head and then I put it right back on because otherwise I get too much sun. Imagine that! Too much sun in a shower! Heaven. Also, it’s worth pointing out, the same ledge that you rest your hat on while washing your head is perfectly capable of also supporting a beer. And would you believe it, they actually sell beer in the marina office only 10 yards away!
#6-10. I’m still searching. Guidance from the Points East community is welcome. …
Cruising Aboard the Caravan 18 Points East Magazine Dec. 2019
“What’d you sail in on?” asked the man shaving at the sink next to me.
“A Caravan 18,” I replied, pleased with my quick thinking and grateful for the shaving cream concealing my smirk. It was a beautiful August morning in Northeast Harbor, Maine and my new friend and I were getting cleaned up in the Yachtsmen’s Building at the town dock.
“I see,” he continued, “and where did you cruise in from?”
“Boston,” I replied.
“Wow, that’s a long way in such a small boat. How long did it take you?”
“About six hours,” I told him.
“Holy cow! That must have been a rough ride, going so fast in such a small boat in open water.”
“Nope, it was a very smooth ride. Comfortable too with air conditioning and the Red Sox game on the radio.” I scraped away some stubborn stubble.
“Coulda made better time if I hadn’t stopped at MacDonald’s,” I continued.
Now he was starting to catch on. “Dodge makes a great van,” I said, confirming his suspicions. …
Lessons Learned From A Lame Duck Points East Magazine July 2019
Not every marina has a duck house, but, lucky for me, mine does.
I’ve been watching a certain duck there lately. She has a bad starboard wing and a bad port leg. When she walks, she leans on her good wing like a cane. When she swims, she drags her bad wing to keep her course straight. She’s a full displacement sort of duck, with a nine-inch waterline, and her top speed is slow. Despite her plodding pace, she gets her work done. She eats well, she sleeps well and has lots of friends. With a nod to her gregarious nature, I have named her Greg.
Unlike Greg the duck, healthy, wealthy Americans can always go faster. Taller rigs are built to carrying more sail. Larger engines are installed to turn larger props. Longer waterlines charge forward and overpower drag. More speed on the water is attainable.
Paying for speed on the water will earn you an F in Home Economics Class. An $18 ticket on a Greyhound bus will get you going faster than any boat you will ever own. Boats just aren’t the smart place to go looking for speed. Cars are like cheetahs, planes are like falcons and boats are like ducks. They plod along and enjoy floating. They sleep well, eat well and have a lot of friends. …
Moxie Points East Magazine Jan. 2019
My adventures in yachting got off to a rich start. A “SAIL” Magazine subscription card, with a questionnaire at the bottom, was my launch ramp. I checked the box indicating my net worth exceeded $10 million (I felt like $10 million just checking that box). I also checked the box indicating that I was interested in purchasing a new boat in the next six months (I was, in fact, interested. Very interested). Not long after dropping that little card into the mail, I started getting invitations to all sorts of exciting events.
I would need my parents to drive me to all of them because I was only 12 years old. …
Six Simple Machines Points East Magazine July 2018
“When it comes to applying leverage, there are only six tools.” Alex told me in his thick German accent.
Having wandered the aisles of Home Depot, I was dubious.
He continued: “The screw, the wheel, the wedge, the incline plane, the pulley and the lever.” Alex explained how all the tools in my bag were merely variations of these six simple machines.
I had spent much of the day servicing winches on a customer’s sailboat. One of the big cockpit winches was frozen. It had been neither turned nor bathed in a long time and I couldn’t get it to budge. I knew Alex, the marina manager at Boston Waterboat Marina, to be both wise and helpful so I made a pilgrimage to seek out his counsel. Clearly pleased to have been asked, he stood from his chair with his smile beaming out of his full white beard. “When facing a mechanical problem, the best first step,” he coached as we walked back to the boat, “is to decide which simple machine is best suited to provide the necessary mechanical advantage.”
“The screw can do incredible things,” he said, opining that we might be able to induce enough longitudinal force on the winch drum with a threaded rod secured to the stern cleat. This was quickly followed by the observation that in America, it’s the worker who gets screwed. Then we landed on the axiom: “You fall into an ethical morass when you make your living off the backs of other people’s labor.” …
On yacht Appendages Points East Magazine Jan. 2017
The best advice I ever gave my children was to drink their coffee black and their whiskey neat. I rest easy knowing how much time that I have saved them from rustling around looking for things like cream and sugar and ice. If other parents had the good sense to share the same wisdom with their children, perhaps the other boats in this mooring field where I now sit wouldn’t be accessorized with so much junk. I see solar panels, swings, radar poles, wind generators, dinghy davits, lazy jacks, kayaks, bicycles and BBQ grills stapled onto my neighboring yachts as if they were Christmas trees in need of decoration.
I worry sometimes that the poor soul that designed or built the boat on the mooring next to mine might drop by some fine day and take in the reality of what has happened to the fine lines that they had created. I imagine the pinched wince of their face and slow shake of their head as they are forced to comprehend the corruption of their work. …
An Argument for the Rowboat Points East Magazine June 2017
The longer I have been around boats, the more I have come to appreciate the small ones. When I was young, I dreamed of how grand it would be to have a massive sailing yacht of my very own. Now, some years later, my heart skips a beat for a more simple craft. For pure simplicity, nothing beats a rowboat.
I love rowboats. They cut to the heart of what we all admire about boats. The rower, low to the sea, diligently repeats the same arc of motion and in so doing fruitfully propels him or her self from point A to point B with grace and dignity. Content with the knowledge that nothing more than skill and effort made the trip possible.
The boats themselves can reach the highest heights of yacht style. Form following function on a fine rowboat provides for low freeboard, a graceful sheer, sharp ends and the most perfect waterline. The oars are so basic, and much like the ivory tusk of an elephant, so potent. Long, balanced, lean, powerful, a fine oar is fine art.
Then there is the rubber tender with its heavy outboard motor, a blight on the sailing community worldwide. Never before has such an ungainly shit storm emerged from a naval architect’s pencil. Very little more then a car tire inner tube that can not be rowed into the slightest breeze even by the finest rower. A task that certainly will need to be accomplished with great regularity thanks to its sour marriage to the filthy, unreliable menace named the outboard motor. …
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