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Hopetown Harbor
26 32.25N:76 57.60W
Scattered Clouds. Low: 80° F. Wind ESE 8 mph.

I’ve been sitting on a mooring in Hopetown Harbor, Elbow Cay for about five days watching all the boats come and go here in this very busy little harbor. There are ferryboats, fishing boats, dive boats, dinghies, charter boats, and cruisers. The harbor is so small and tight with moorings, they don’t allow anchoring. As soon as anyone gets settled here, they become part of the crowd on the boats and in the waterfront bars all watching the next guy to see if he knows how to pick up a mooring the proper way.

This is an aspect of boating that I really dislike. It doesn’t matter if a guy has been boating for three months or thirty years, he figures he is in a position to laugh at the next guy who comes along. Now, I am using the male pronoun here because it is mostly guys who do this, however like all generalities, there are exceptions to the rule. But the fact is, boating is a male dominated sport and while the men sit around and make fun of everyone else, they then turn to the women in their lives and ask them why they don’t want to give boating a try. Well, duh!

I’ve been sailing for more than thirty years now, but the other day a fellow gave me a lecture on the proper way to tie a line around a cleat and he told a story about a woman who just couldn’t learn to do it right. The relationship fizzled as a result. I’m sorry, but there just isn’t a proper way. Yeah, there are ways that will cause the lines to bind under extreme pressure, and it will make it difficult to free that line in a hurry. Sometimes, when I want a line to hold for just a few minutes, I just circle it around a cleat a couple of times – and for what I want in that moment that works. Like most beginning sailors, I once read all the books on how to do things, and I have evolved ways that work for me. There are so many different ways to do things on boats, and I just don’t like this idea that you must do something BY THE BOOK.

Years ago when I sailed down to the Marquesas in the South Pacific, we arrived to find a small red Chinese Junk anchored in the bay at Nuku Hiva. We later met the Brit singlehander on board and he went by the name Eric the Red. He was on his second circumnavigation. He had no money and when he left Panama he had sailed to Cocos Island off Costa Rica in the hopes of provisioning with free fruits and vegetables that he foraged. He didn’t find as much as he’d hoped and with a boat that did 4 knots at best, he had been some 40 days at sea and when he’d arrived, he’d been eating the barnacles off the bottom of the boat and he looked like a POW. Eric didn’t do anything by the book. He was writing his own book. Literally.

When I was married, my husband and I built a 55-foot sailboat from a bare hull. I was there in the boatyard every day working on that boat, 365 days a year for 3 years. We sailed that boat for 14 years and I used to ask to learn how to dock her. He always said to me that his boat couldn’t take my learning curve on docking. In all those years, I never once docked the boat.

Here in Hopetown, I have watched bareboat charterers take five or six tries to grab a mooring. Yeah, there are better ways to do it than that, and they will learn, but we all were once there on that learning curve, and if you want to learn, you have to be willing to allow for mistakes and for other ways of doing things. I don’t mock them or feel superior because I know I may very well screw something up tomorrow. Maybe it’s my nature as a teacher, but I just don’t get off on sitting around with a drink mocking others in order to make myself feel superior.

These days, I sail alone on my own boat and I am enjoying every moment of my learning curve. I have learned to dock without disaster most of the time, but tomorrow morning I have to go to the Hopetown fuel dock and I make no promises. I follow few of the rituals of the sea and most traditional sailors would not call my boat shipshape. I do lots of things my way. Here in this rather snazzy harbor, I’ve been rowing my inflatable dinghy because I need the exercise, and because I have no seat in the dink, I use a big fender. My dinghy also has a hole in the bottom that I’ve tried several times to patch – most recently with 5200 – and it continues to leak and I’m always ankle deep in water. I bail it with a super shooter squirtgun. Not exactly by the book.

So, like Eric the Red, I am writing my own book. I think that’s what makes the cruising community so interesting. And next time you’re sitting in a bar laughing at someone who misses a mooring or who gets pinned to pilings by a cross current, think about the people around you and how many of them are either saying, “forget boating” or, like me, “someday, I’ll get my own boat and do it my way.”

Fair winds!

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Comment by Kevin M. Morton on June 20, 2008 at 10:51pm
Bravo and well spoken! I am brand new to sailing, and I taught myself much of what I know by singlehanding my boat out of Long Beach Harbor on a day with 20-25kt headwinds and 10 foot seas (felt like ALOT more while on the foredeck raising the jib!) setting out for Vallejo California. That is DEFINITELY not by the book. Somehow, I survived and learned much from it. One old gentleman tried to discourage me by not even allowing me to crew for him as part of a crew of three for a single overnight journey, saying "You aren't ready to be a sailor". Oh well, it takes all kinds I suppose. I could do with a few less of HIS kind, though!

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