It was a cold, rainy day in December 2018. A guy was meeting me at the bank after he had responded to the online classified ad for our 2015 Sea Doo. Braving the elements, knowing this would be the last time I would wash her hull, I took a few moments to say goodbye. Memories flooded my mind as my cold, soapy hands glided along the yellow vinyl seat. It wasn’t unlike saying goodbye to an old friend, but not just any old friend. This old friend had kept us safe when conditions were anything but. She had provided us with many of our most cherished, most exciting experiences on the Chesapeake Bay, including the time we took her on our honeymoon.
The week after Kari and I got married, we brought my old 27’ Hunter, Rhumb Line, up from Topping, VA on the Rappahannock River to Deale, MD. During the five day trip that we lovingly dubbed our 'Honeymoon Cruise', the Sea Doo was right there along for the ride. Kari rode the ski out of the marina to our rendezvous point where we finally met up an hour later in the safety of the vastness of the Rappahannock River. She took the opportunity to get a few photos of Rhumb Line looking majestic under full sail with me at the tiller. After running a few circles around Rhumb Line, Kari clambered aboard the boat, not to get off again for three more days.
The ski rode fantastically tied off 20’ behind us as we sailed up the bay. When anchored for the night, the we pulled the Sea Doo in close, just as anyone would do with a dinghy. The third day, we pulled into Solomons Island to fuel up. There was a nice restaurant beckoning to us from the top of the marina. After having spent the last three days underway eating leftover wedding spaghetti from a plastic freezer bag, we were both feeling like this doesn’t have to be a quick stop just for fuel. The friendly fuel dock attendant helped us secure Rhumb Line out of the way, then bid us good day. Although both of us were stone cold sober, we drunk-walked like Jack Sparrow up the dock to the restaurant, our sea legs refusing to adapt to the sudden change to solid ground.
We’re all familiar with sea sickness, but for the first time in our lives, Kari and I both experienced land sickness. Walking a straight line was out of the question as we did the best we could to stay on the dock and out of the water. We must have been quite a sight for the restaurant patrons enjoying their marina view with dinner. Two dirty sailors drunkenly walking up the dock, laughing and holding hands.
“Do you think they are coming here?” I could almost hear an old lady whisper to her husband over her Chardonnay and braised rockfish.
Before leaving Rhumb Line, I did the restaurant a favor by changing my shirt for the first time during the trip. Still, the hostess seemed less than pleased with my disheveled look. If she had been trying to hide her disgust with us, she was doing so poorly. Begrudgingly, the poor girl showed us to a table where Kari and I would laugh over a bottle of wine, and reminisce on this fantastic voyage we had set out on three days earlier. The food was splendidly more delicious than cold spaghetti.
While sitting at the table, we decided we didn’t want to spend another night at anchor. We weren’t going to make it to Deale before nightfall, and a quick check of the weather for the next day warned of gale force winds that Rhumb Line wasn’t up to the task for.
“Good news,” I told Kari with my mouth full of fish taco, “The weather is crummy tomorrow!” She knew this meant a night in the peaceful confines of a marina, which is the polar opposite of sleeping on a tumbling boat jarring at the end of the anchor rode at the top of every wave and being rudely awoken every few minutes by the Sea Doo slamming loudly into the hull. We ordered more drinks and searched our phones for marinas to start calling for last minute availability. This was May, when more boats are still on the hard than in the water, so it wasn’t difficult to find a slip that early in the season. We did better than find a slip. We found a hotel attached to a marina with a room available!
We were able to walk straight now, but our stomachs still hadn’t settled. Both of us were looking forward to a hot shower and a warm bed. A night on the town didn’t sound like a bad idea to a couple of sailors that have been at sea for three days, either. Rhumb Line did not have any modern day conveniences like electronic chart plotters, or even a depth sounder. So we motored aimlessly, Sea Doo pulled in close, through the watery maze that makes up the bulk of Solomons Island. It was getting late in the afternoon, so the waterfront bars were filling with curious drinkers that enjoyed laughing and taking photos of the old, worn out sailboat towing the brand new, shiny Sea Doo through town. I tried to ignore it, but someone pointed and laughed.
Kari and I were too excited at the prospect of hot showers to take any notice of the peanut gallery on shore. After taking every wrong turn possible, we finally stumbled upon the hotel. Rhumb Line was happy in her berth, getting a well deserved break after a bath and some tidying up of her cabin. Then we raced each other up the dock, a bottle of wine and a few loose bottles of beer clanging in our luggage, to the hotel for our own well deserved baths and tidying up.
A shower beer is a wonderful thing after having been underway on a boat that was roasting in the daylight and freezing at night. I had a few shower beers under the endless stream of hot water, along with a couple of glasses of wine in hotel Dixie cups. After showering and cleaning up, and feeling loosened up from the alcohol, Kari and I decided to walk to West Marine. Note to self: Don’t go to West Marine on a buzz. In less than one hour, Rhumb Line had a new chart plotter.
That night, we were ready to hit the town. As newlyweds that had survived, rather thrived, being cooped up with each other on a 27’ boat for three days and two nights (really four days and three nights, because we stayed on the boat in the marina the night before we left), we were ready to let loose and have some fun. After returning from West Marine with my new chart plotter in hand, we both took a quick nap, then headed out at about 9 pm, raring to go.
I guess Solomons attracts an older, family friendly crowd. We were hard pressed to find anywhere open after 9 pm. Defeated, but still not ready to give up on our good times, we found a liquor store and ended up back where we started; in the cockpit of Rhumb Line. Even our own boat wasn’t a good place to celebrate, as it became apparent people were trying to sleep on the boats around us. Never ones to stop having fun before it expires, Kari and I migrated to the hotel room to finish our newly purchased bottles of wine. When we woke up in the morning, we found only one bottle had been opened and two cups next to it, untouched. We both were too tired and had fallen asleep. I cringe to think about how close we were to falling asleep on Rhumb Line when we had already paid for a comfortable hotel room.
When I woke up in the morning, with a groggy head, I checked the weather. A lucky break in the forecast would allow us to leave for Deale today. We talked it over, and based on the good weather outlook for the week, we decided it would be nice to stay another night in Solomons. On day four of the Honeymoon Cruise, we took the ski out to explore the town.
Our first stop was the Calvert Marine Museum. They had a floating dinghy dock where we were able to leave the ski while we explored the halls and lighthouse of the museum. After a charming visit to the Marine Museum, we loaded back on the ski and headed over to the Patuxent River side of town where I had made arrangements with the local jet ski rental outfit to let us tie to their dock for the day. Their season hadn’t started yet, so they were very friendly about letting us tie up at their facilities for as long as we wanted. From there we were able to walk the entire town, sample all the restaurants we could muster, and even visit the other museum in town, the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory. As a biologist, Kari was in heaven. It was a fascinating place where we both enjoyed talking to the staff about the work they are doing.
The following day, after two wonderful days in which we fell in love with Solomons Island, we bid farewell and pointed Rhumb Line’s bow toward Deale. Ten long hours later, we pulled into the slip in Tracy’s Creek after enduring one of the worst days on the water either of us had ever experienced.
The entire ordeal was completely my fault. I checked the weather, and things were supposed to be fine, but the forecast was wrong. We left Solomons with good wind in the sails, but around noon the wind died to nothing. After I realized we were going backwards for a while, thanks to the new chart plotter, I resentfully lifted the cover off the old Yanmar so I could short the starter solenoid with a screwdriver. At some point during the cruise a wire had come loose, rendering the key useless. Somehow, the old engine sprang to life every time I really needed it to, and we spent the next three hours motoring up the Bay.
Later in the afternoon, the wind filled the sails until finally the engine’s services were no longer needed. Shutting the engine off was much easier than starting it. All I had to do was leave the old thing in gear and pull the throttle down to idle. That’s OK if you are in the open bay and want the engine to die, but not so great when you are pulling into a slip and it suddenly goes quiet. Maneuvering Rhumb Line in the tight confines of marinas was always a circus show.
Sailing was great for about an hour, then the wind quickly overpowered Rhumb Lines old rigging. I could feel the weathered tiller handle flex under the pressure of the rushing water flowing over her rudder. I should have replaced the tiller handle before we left, and now it was dangerously close to the point of snapping. It was when the zip ties holding the entire steering contraption together started popping off that I decided it was time to put a reef or two in the mainsail.
The seas were picking up, but were coming at us from astern. These old Hunters can handle a pretty good sea off the stern, so the four footers that rolled under us on that day weren’t really posing much of a problem. Still, this is where it all went wrong.
I had Kari take the tiller, the only instructions I gave here were, “keep the bow pointed into the wind.” With Kari safely at the tiller, I made my way forward to bring the big main down and tie in the first reef. The next thing I know, we are showing our beam to the big waves. The boat started rocking and rolling, dipping one rail into the water after the other. As waves washed over the deck, I clung onto the base of the mast with my arms and legs like a scared, pissed off cat stuck in a tree during a wind storm. I looked back at Kari and she had the tiller pushed hard over out of the wind! Fear took over. All I could think of was, “I’m going to get bucked off this rodeo and she won’t be able to come get me!”
I’m not happy about how I handled the situation, but I hollered the things I hollered, and I own them. I’m a better person because of this experience, and I’ll never talk to my sweet wife like that again. Kari was on the brink of tears as I cursed and spat from my perch at the base of the mast. I felt stupid. I felt like all the other boats could see what was happening, and I imagined them shaking their heads in disbelief at the predicament the “newbies” have gotten themselves into. “Is that a Sea Doo they are towing?” they were surely asking each other, then belting out in laughter at the idiocy of the situation we had allowed ourselves to get into.
I’m not a newbie. I know better. I know not to go into a situation like this without fully briefing the crew, and without a plan a, b, and c. I was mad at myself, but I took it out on the only innocent person on the boat.
I managed to wrangle the main all the way down rather than putting in a reef and risking a knockdown while trying to save this situation while under sail. I doused the headsail then lifted the cover off the engine to perform the tedious task of shorting the start solenoid with a screwdriver while rocking almost vertically on each side every few seconds as four foot waves tossed the little boat completely out of control. I continued to curse and lecture Kari like she was a child. We motored the rest of the way into Deale, about two hours, in silence, neither of us wanting to talk to the other. Poor Kari rode those two hours in the cabin, the only place on the boat that was as far away from me as possible.
I had ruined what was an otherwise enjoyable day for her. She was putting up with the deteriorating conditions like a champ. I was impressed with her ability to lay in the sun and read a book, just enjoying our time together even as our little boat was being rocked and healed over at uncomfortable angles.
She has later admitted how close she was to jumping on the Sea Doo and leaving me behind. The ride to Deale would have taken her less than half an hour on the ski. Instead, she stayed with me and endured my assholery for two more hours.
So not only was the Sea Doo a great little tender, and a safety cushion in case anything went wrong with the boat, it was also a marriage saver in case the husband suddenly became a raging lunatic.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is what you call a keeper.
We called up the marina on the radio and managed to safely moor Rhumb Line in a slip where she would sit over the weekend before being hauled out for some much needed maintenance. In the nearly decade I owned the poor boat, she had never been hauled out. The bottom was an embarrassing science experiment showcasing every critter in the Chesapeake Bay that clings to boat bottoms. The old Yanmar needed a rebuild, and the interior wood needed refinishing, and in some cases, replacing from years of neglected leaking hatches that had allowed rainwater to flood the cabin.
We worked on the boat for a week before having a serious conversation about whether this is what we wanted to be doing with our time. A couple will figure out exactly what they want in a boat after a week underway on one that does not meet their expectations. As it turned out, we realized Rhumb Line was too small and needed more work than we were willing to put into her. The next piece of equipment we bought for the old Hunter was a 'For Sale' sign and a Sharpie. On it, I wrote in big letters, 'It's been fun, but it's time to move on. $100 obo.'
I bought the boat, which is a story all of its own, almost ten years before for $1500 and had kept it at the previous owner's house for free all those years. The boat owed me nothing, so as hard as it was to let this old friend go, selling her for $100 just to get rid of her was an easy choice to make.
The plan was to replace Rhumb Line with a bigger boat, a plan that still has not come to fruition. In hind sight, we shoulda just kept the old girl. At least we would have a boat!
People say the happiest days of a sailors life are the day he buys the boat and the day he sells it. I couldn't disagree with this statement more. You make memories with these toys, whether it be an old sailboat or a new jet ski, that make it very difficult to get rid of them. In our case, we get so much use out of our watercraft that by the time we are willing to sell them, they aren't worth anything, which just adds insult to injury. The decision to sell a beloved friend is difficult. Having to sell well below market value is awful.
Fair winds and following seas!
We are an adventurous couple exploring the Chesapeake Bay by boat, paddle board, jet ski, and whatever other means necessary!
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