So we packed up the kids and flew ourselves to the Annapolis Boat Show, pushed there by 50 knot tailwinds in just over 4 hours. The time is drawing near when 50 knot winds will not be so welcome…
It’s very intimidating to start up a new hobby mid-life, especially one that can be so expansive that it becomes a lifestyle for many. Walking along the downtown streets of Annapolis, the nexus of US sailing, past store after store of nautical-related items, past Naval Academy midshipmen out in their very impressive “being seen by civilians” outfits (my college “being seen by civilians” outfit was a pair of jean shorts and a faded Lovett O-Week Tshirt with a hole in it,) past the crew of big sailboats with their matching jackets and “sea stories,” was overwhelming enough. Then we arrived at the US Sailboat Show.
I never saw so many shackles, ropes (I mean: lines and sheets), and specialty gadgets in my life. You don’t need regular paint, you need Marine Paint. You don’t need a rope, you need 56 feet of 5/8” polyester double braid spinnaker sheeting. Or maybe it should be nylon, Vectran, or Dyneema? There were at least 5 companies selling the same thing, all with their own spin on why theirs was better. Unable to sort out even what kind of dinghy we should buy, we left with some heavy weather gear (clothes — I can handle buying clothes), some life jackets with harnesses, and a nice, old-fashioned analog barometer. Oh, and a giant spinnaker.
A few times during our conversations with the salespeople, our future plans came up. The response was an interesting mixture of envy, excitement, and negativity. For some reason, many felt compelled to educate us on everything that could go wrong, assuming that we were going into this blindly, not realizing that things could be stolen or we would need spare parts. “They boarded my friend’s boat in St. Martin, beat him up, and left him for dead. But you’ll have a great time!” and “You will get struck by lightning and then won’t be able to find a competent person in any boatyard ever to help you fix things…Boy, am I jealous! ” and “Be prepared. Your heads will back up and your boat will be flooded with shit. Boy, you picked a nice boat!”
I was worked up about all of this, of course, but then went to a talk by the awesome Matt Rutherford, the guy who sailed single-handed around the Americas. He was calming to me, largely because he was clearly a smart, motivated guy who started out a tad ignorant about cruising, but figured it out by making a lot of mistakes. I pretty much figure that’s what’s going to happen to us. And he survived. He offered up many common-sense tips such as this:
We also went to a talk by the darling and ancient Don Street, whose lack of knowledge of how to maneuver through a .pdf to make a presentation was more than compensated for by his decades of experience cruising the Caribbean. This pulled me out of my worries about how many extra crap buckets we should bring and reminded me why we are doing this: To explore new worlds (to us) and boldly go where we (and our spoiled children) haven’t been before.
The highlight, of course, was that Mel finally got to see the boat that Greg bought for the family on a trip to Florida in the Spring. More on that later…
We also met up with some lovely people who own the same kind of boat and started another of hopefully many great friendships with fellow cruisers. We dutifully recorded their “boat squawks,” hoping to avoid some of our own pain by learning from the pain of others. Michael and Cassie, may your fuel tanks have tailwinds!
A surprising education occurred when Mel took Allie on a “Pirate Adventure Cruise” through the Chesapeake Bay. About 25 kids were dressed in eye patches and do-rags and piled on a 40-something foot monohull, run with two large outboard engines. As I stood back by the captain, who must have been in his late 20’s, I filled with envy watching him expertly manipulate the dual throttles to back us out of the tiny slip we were in, missing the giant cat parked behind us by inches, all the while shouting at the college kid running things up front, “Patches! Patches! What are you doing? You don’t hang kids upside down from the boom!” I longed for the day when I could multitask silliness with precision. Thinking about how I learned medicine, I realized that what I wanted was instinct. The kind of instinct that comes when you have trained so much that what was once explicit is now implicit, and for reasons you can’t sometimes explain even to your resident, you just know there is going to be clonus in that right leg and the patient is going to be dead in 18 months. I have already learned the hard way that knowledge is no substitute for experience, but having gained that instinct in one aspect of my life at least makes it possible that I could do it in another, which is comforting.
So all in all, the Boat Show was an education! Oh, and we also learned that “Boat Show Discounts” are BS.