Steven Slosberg: Dead calm and a missed connection

Steven Slosberg: Dead calm and a missed connection

 Under house arrest these past couple of weeks following a bit of surgery, I began shamelessly poring through the archives looking for a story I might retell without too much exertion to hold my place and also to provide maybe a pucker of amusement.

Seasonal, too, the one I chose. It involves sailing, or, more to the point, not sailing, and lessons learned, and friendships tested, along the windless way. For the record, as the owner says, Maia, a 44-year-old Cheoy Lee, “is having a second life, with a new engine from Avondale Boat Yard last year and then ministrations of carpentry this most recent winter by the esteemed Bill Taylor of Frank Hall Boat Yard in Avondale. She is now black and happily back on her mooring in Stonington.” The vessel is moored near the breakwater.

So, with your indulgence, here’s the report, as I wrote it one late summer day lo these many years ago:

 “Just after 9 Friday morning, I boarded a former friend’s yacht in Noank for the start of my first lengthy sailing adventure.

“The two of us were heading to Newport where he’d join his wife for the Labor Day weekend’s Classic Yacht Regatta and I’d hop a bus to Providence to meet another former friend and then head over to McCoy Stadium to catch the PawSox’ season finale.

“A perfect day. Altogether brilliant.

“Standing on the deck of the handsome 31-foot ketch, full of the surrounding halyard jingle-jangle and fresh morning air, I took out my reporter’s notebook and dutifully wrote ‘only an innocent wind, the sky a prevailing blue.’

“‘How would you describe the weather?’ I asked my host, who was filling the boat’s tank with diesel fuel.

 “‘Dead calm,’ he replied.

“‘Like the movie,’ I volunteered brightly, stealing a peek at my watch and recalling his words the day before. ‘Newport? Five or six hours.’

“Sailing, I’d been told, can only be experienced. From what I gather, we did it twice on Friday. Once, for a few minutes as we passed Watch Hill, and again as we approached Point Judith. Our cruising speed, in rough measure, was one knot.

“But all this was ahead of us. As we steamed away from Noank, the other fellow at the tiller and saying the southwesterly winds should be up to 10 or 15 knots by early afternoon, I busied myself with the passing scenery and the yacht’s thicket of rigging and compiling a hasty log of sailing lore:

 “Fall is the best sailing season because the winds are somehow heavier. Boatyard fees for maintenance on a classy wooden boat might run $4,000 to $5,000 a year. The cost of custom hardware and hand sewn sails are not topics for polite conversation. Handicapping before yacht races is more political than any presidential convention. Boats have fenders; cars have bumpers. Terns and gulls on the loose cannot tell teak decking from molded plastic. Misquamicut is actually longer than Rhode Island. Ted Kennedy’s gaff-rigged schooner, ‘Mya,’ is royal blue. Boaters from the Midwest have frightening taste.

“And, of course, if you are sailing, never tell anyone you’ll be anywhere at a certain time.

“Five to 6 knots under diesel power got us to Newport in about seven hours. When it was certain I’d miss my bus connection, we tried to leave a message via a marine operator.

The problem was not raising the operator in New Bedford or Narragansett, which we finally did, but what message to leave. There is no right time. Being at sea is the tide, and day and night, not black and white.

“In Newport Harbor, which, on a race weekend, was as busy as an airport, it was impossible to talk a harried launch operator into helping us.

 “So we spent another hour on the boat apologizing to each other. I opted for the tension and unwise scheduling. He favored the lack of wind. (As I write this Saturday morning, I still haven’t had the courage to talk to the fellow who was to meet me in Providence.)

“Finally, we dropped anchor in the harbor and decided to get me ashore in the yacht’s dinghy which, we noted, takes on water.

“The two of us, though of similar height, are of rather different displacement. I ended up sandwiched into the front of the eight-foot dingy, where I was least threatening, sitting on a cushion to prevent my bottom from getting soaked, scooping out the rush of water with a broken plastic cup while my deliverer oared mightily toward the nearest pier.

 “Once I was on the dock and he could relax, we apologized some more, shook hands and went our ways — he to his wife, boat and a weekend in Newport, me to the bus stop and, by 8 p.m., downtown Providence.

 “I did make it home. My wife drove the hour to Providence to fetch me.

 “Two friends, tranquility and the southwesterly wind. People have lost worse, I’ve been told, on a day of sailing.”

Steven Slosberg lives in Stonington and was a longtime reporter and columnist for The Day in New London. He may be reached at:


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