After finalizing much of the logistics necessary to purchase my boat it was finally time to bring her from Warren R.I. down to her new home at Clark’s Boat Yard in Jamestown, R.I.
It was early on a still Saturday morning; my girlfriend, Karen and I met up with the boat’s original owner, who had generously volunteered to join us on our maiden voyage. Together the three of us ventured out to where she was moored. Approaching my vessel not as a visitor but as a new owner provided a totally different rush.
At that moment I was filled with the excitement only comparable to buying your first car, or a young boy on Christmas morning. It took a bit of effort to transition from jumping-on-the-bed-excited to focused on the trip at hand. I fired up the diesel, slipped free of the mooring, grabbed a hold of the wheel and made my way towards the channel.
Leaving Warren behind our zig-zagged turbulence (hey, it’s a new boat) to take her to her new home really helped solidify the feeling that this boat was really mine. Eventually I got acquainted with the steering and was able to keep her straightened out. The volleyball-sized knot in my stomach began to loosen with each buoy we passed. For the next hour or so, Scott the previous owner and I swapped boating stories. Though he owned several boats, most of his favorite stories had taken place aboard this one. As he recounted trips made to Block Island he tapped the hull. It was obvious he was second-guessing the sale.
As we neared Newport, we decided to shut off the engine to give sailing a shot, (which was when the knot in my stomach re-tangled itself, with vengeance). We had very light air that morning but just as Scott was showing me the ropes, the wind picked up to 10-12 knots. Just enough. We raised the mainsail and then the jib. Once the sails were set, I ran back to the wheel and as Scott gave me a reassuring nod, I smiled and turned the boat into the wind for the first time. The wind grabbed the sails and we were once again underway.
The first thing that amazed me was how quiet everything was. With just the sound of the bay lapping against the hull and the occasional powerboat off in the distance it was eerily silent. I loved it. As Karen and I practiced tacking, Scott kicked back to soak in some rays and enjoy his final time on the boat.
Cutting back and forth in the empty bay, Scott was quick with advice when asked, yet was careful not to critique Karen and I as we fumbled around the boat. We were having such a great time we even asked Scott to snap a couple pictures (on the header). After a few hours of sailing, we decided that we’d had our fun for the day and decided to find our mooring and get our new friend/sailing instructor home.
With Scott at the wheel keeping us upwind, I took down the sails. I couldn’t help but beam with the pride that I think only comes with successfully sailing for the first time. I’m not a fan of clichés but I have to say, life was good.
A loud noise echoed right next to my foot where I discovered a four-inch piece of wood. I picked up the soft white wood; not immediately knowing where it came from, I glanced back to Scott who was starring up at the top of the mast, mouth agape. My heart sank immediately. As I peered to the top of the 35-foot mast a second and third scrap of wood came crashing down to the deck.
The top of the mast looked as if it has been split down the middle with the right and left sides of the mast folding out like banana peels.
Even now, after the incident, it is hard to find the words to talk about this turn of events. Going from one of the highest moments of sailing your first boat to seeing it crumble before your eyes was for a lack of better words, humbling.
It appeared that the release of tension of the sails on the mast caused the (recently discovered) water logged top of the mast to break apart.
I looked back at Scott again, with a look that I’m sure made him wonder if he could swim to shore.
He explained that he had no idea that the mast was suffering from water damage. The look of pain in his face, which I’m sure matched my own made me think he was telling me the truth.
I went on to find our mooring, return to shore and begin to drive Scott the 45 minutes back to Warren. During the drive we spent a few minutes speculating as to the severity of the damage to the mast but mostly we sat in silence. The silence I had cherished an hour before was now agonizing.
As we finally dropped Scott off, he urged me to keep him posted on the mast damage and to contact him with whatever he could do to fix the mast. I learned that a good previous owner could be a very valuable resource. (Note to self: so is a survey!)