No Room For Error



I worry about taking the boat across the water, with the ice in the bay and the sea smoke.  I am unfamiliar with the vessel, its quirks and feel, and am apprehensive about signals I may misinterpret.  I am comforted somewhat because the ferry is running, out in the bay with me, so I can raise them on the VHF if there’s trouble.  I am concerned that I’ll not be able to operate the radio.

I think that all my concern is speaking directly to what we want to market as a boat yard – selling peace of mind on the water, so the operator knows who to call, what help to seek, if things go wrong.  I am an example.

I am soothed somewhat because I’m qualified. I have experience.  I know boats and how they run, single screw or twin engine.  The docking shouldn’t be a problem.  You go slow, let the wind do its work, and nestle up to the float.  Come in upwind and get blown to a perfect landing.

I’ve been instructed about the peculiarities of running in such cold weather.  The intake, sucking salt water, cannot freeze and starve the engine of cooling fluid.  There is ice in the bay, but it is new ice, slushy and in lily-patch pieces, not hard enough to pierce the fiberglass hull.

When I row out to the boat on the mooring I am careful to dip the oars into water, not onto the patches of ice.  The waterways on Justin time are covered with accumulated ice from spray frozen on contact.  I am careful of my footing as I board, so as not to slip into the killing water.

The key is in the ignition.  That means that the engine has not been laid up and the through-hull intake valve is open.  I go below and check, to make sure.  It is open.

The engine starts hard, and the alarm beeps intermittently as the engine warms up.  I watch the temperature gauge and wait for the needle to register some warmth.

I walk the narrow port waterway up to the bow, one gloved hand sliding on the hand-rail, the other pulling the row boat along behind me. I struggle to unwind the pennant from the forward cleat because it has frozen itself around the bit.  I tie in the row boat then toss the whole mess off the bow and the boat drifts away.

The boat, named Justin Time, pushes chunks of ice out of the way as I approach the dock.  The dock is covered in packed snow and is ringed by a skirt of ice, splashed and congealed in the chop.

I concentrate on all the little things, and work the controls with forethought.  My passenger comes slowly down the incline, both arms spread out to grasp the railings.  The tide is almost low and the incline is very steep and slippery.  He comes aboard and I back the boat off the dock and spin her around and head towards Islesboro.

February is a private time to boat in Maine.  The summer riff-raff is months gone and months to come, and only we serious boaters are on the water – the boat yard boats and the occasional scallop dragger.  The prevailing wind is from the north and the skies and sea are slate gray, and the water is cold enough to kill you in five minutes.  If anything goes horribly wrong on this three mile stretch of water, and the boat sinks, there is no hope for rescue.

Travelling across the bay is more special because there is no room for error and you are alone.  The boat is like an arrow head and cleaves the waves and lays down a carpet of wake.

This is serious business and you are in control.  The rolling of the waves and the drone of the engine pull you towards complacency, but you fight that and pay special attention.

I pick up the other two passengers on the Islesboro side and we all huddle in the warming pilot house as I maneuver Justin Time through the mooring balls and out into open water, around Spruce Island and into Cradle Cove where the boat yard sits.

The northerly wind has driven ice into the little cove and around the front pilings and the floats.  Here it is a solid mass.  I slow the boat and we cut a path to the dock.  The fiberglass pierces the ice crust and it sounds like chewing.

All goes well with the meeting, but I am concerned that the wind has freshened and this may complicate the return across the bay.  We leave the island and the bow hits the chop and raises spray that freezes on the windshield and reduces my visibility.  I work the wiper toggle switch and fresh water washes some of the ice to the side.  I can see enough through the lower quarter of the windshield pane.

My passenger speaks to me about the meeting, but I am annoyed that he is diverting attention I am trying to pay to the coming landing and then putting the boat back on the mooring.  I plot my technique to catch the mooring buoy and tall pennant stick.

But all goes well. I drop my passengers at the float and when I am finally secured back on the mooring, and the rowboat is tied tightly to the stern, I breathe a sigh of relief.  As instructed, I lay up the engine.  I close the intake value, drain the hose, then restart the engine and pour two gallons of antifreeze into the strainer.  I shut down the engine and close the engine box.  I row back to the dock and realize I worry too much.