Blanketing opinions that I'll probably regret soon.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Playing Chicken with a Massive Ship at Night

(a post by Matlow Toldmie)

Five of us were on a 35 foot sloop heading north through a shipping lane in the Chesapeake in the middle of the night --- winds 6-8 with a low ceiling and forecast for scattered rain, visibility perfect but quite dark, temp 65 to 70, waves less than one foot.

For most on board, it was the first full night sail, and needless to say, the dangers of the situation were not well known. The music was up, the beers were cracking at a relentless pace, and the mood was merry.

Looking behind us, a massive container ship was sliding past a half mile away. Ominous. Like a massive black wall with a house on top lit up for Christmas. Someone asked LB, the Captain, if a ship was supposed to be that close.

The beers kept flowing, and the mood stayed light, although the music was turned down and LB asked us to shut the fuck up and look around more often. We continued our leisurely tacks north.

About 30 minutes later, another ship was sighted quite far away, and this one also appeared like it would pass close. It kept getting bigger. We all kept staring at it, mumbling our opinions, sipping our brews and cursing. It kept getting bigger. At least 20 knots.

The multiple lights on its bow and bridge coupled with the pitch darkness were playing tricks with us: at first, the boat looked like it was heading toward our stern, then it would appear to be heading straight at our bow. But one thing was clear: it was getting larger, faster.

I've always read that big ships often don't even realize they run over little boats; little boats sometimes don't even know what hit them until the crew is looking up from the locker, and death is staring them in the face. A chilling thought.

One by one cigarettes were flicked away and beers were set down. More mumbling, but this time directed at the Captain. There were as many opinions as there were directions to turn. Suddenly our voices were louder and things started happening faster. The approaching ship was either going to be a major fucking disaster or a memory in less than five minutes, and we still had no idea which way it was headed or which way we should turn. The radio was off and silent, but the cockpit was a mess of confused banter and noise as panic was approaching at no less than 20 churning knots.

I wanted to do something but there was no order because there was no solution to what might not even be a problem! Then I heard it.

During a split second break in the cacophony of shouts, there was a noise: SSSSHHHHHHHHHHHH. The roiling sound of the oncoming bow wave.

I'm not sure anybody else heard it, but I could feel the dump of adrenaline hit my bloodstream. The ship was now on top of us. Looking up, the details of the bridge were suddenly clear.

Then the ship blasted its horn. A loud five second blast hit us over the water, just as LB whipped us into action. Yelling louder than the ship, the Captain blew his own set of pipes: "PREPARE TO TACK!" I turned and manned the closest winch. "HARD A LEE!" I started grinding the shit out of that winch. I was a machine. Correction. I was part of a machine. A machine that involved a barking Captain, a spinning helm, a released foresail sheet, a new leeward foresail line being sheeted in, a mainsail sheet being unchoked (we had no traveler) and a leeward mainsail sheet being sheeted in.

The ship gave us two more blasts as we found our course. Before we even let go of the lines and winch handles, we were looking at the name on her ass, safely chugging past us. Now she's a memory and none of us to this day can remember her name.

Our little party boat went from a stupid group of half-drunk slack jaws to a well oiled racing machine in the space of one hornblast. Adrenaline.

Thank God we had LB to gather up his nads and get us off our collective ass or all of us would have been chumming the bay that night. He was toasted well and often the rest of the trip.

If anyone reading this still doubts whether a boat needs a Captain and an obedient crew, they are idiots. And if they happen to be on crew with me, toothless as well.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

New Contributor: Matlow Toldmie

Recently, I've only been interested in writing about sailing so I'm temporarily converting this blog into a full time Sailing Blog until the weather gets cold again ... or, I just get sick of it.

To help me, I've employed a new Talkin' Shit About A Pretty Sunset contributor, Matlow Toldmie.

Toldmie sails a 1962 Sunfish across the lakes of northern Maryland, has the best life jacket of anyone I know, and could kick all your asses at arm wrestling.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

'Mucking About on Boats' is Like a Man-Sized Washing Machine

Since I got the new boat, I've spent two 10-hour days mucking about, fixing it up.

I've rarely done something that's given my body so many unexplained bruises, scrapes and aches. Right now, I have about eight visible blemishes and five beneath-the-skin aches and have no idea how they were caused.

Maybe it happened after I rigged up two connected vice grips located two angles cramped up into the fiberglass-coated bilge beneath the cockpit --- then one of them slipped loose and fell, hitting my neck, barely missing my headlamp-strapped forehead.

And hauling two 62-pound 6 volt batteries on and off the boat from a slowly-deflating dinghy surely didn't help either.

Who knows.

But it's the kind of work that makes me feel great at the end of the day --- like I really did something.

But I suppose land lubbers will never understand about "mucking about pains" --- the aches that hurt so gooood ....

Sunday, June 24, 2007

When in doubt, ask the dude with the gray pony tail.

(I'm unofficially turning this blog into a sailing blog for the entire summer.)

Every time I go to West Marine or some other boat store that's frequented mainly by stink-potters (motor boaters), I get crappy customer service. The staff is not knowledgeable about anything beyond the most superficial questions.

But today I was helped by a 50-year old dude (who looked 40) who was rocking a foot-long gray rat tail/pony tail. And he KNEW what the fuck he was talking about. I had an obscure question about maintaining 6 volt boat batteries and he took time to give me detailed answers, and seemed thrilled to be talking to me about the subject.

And go figure -- he lived on his sailboat and worked at West Marine part time. That's the perfect kind of guy to talk to about buying boat hardware.

Note to sailors: when you have a question at your over-priced boat store, ask the most douchey of douchery customer service reps --- a gray pony tail is often key. They know their shit (by "shit", I don't mean just Jimmy Buffett).

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Mancations Without Arm Wrestling Aren't Self-Respecting Mancations: A War Story

I just spent five days on a sailing mancation on the Chesapeake Bay.

Six guys on a wind and whiskey-powered vessel ventured into empty marshes where we fought snakes with nets, into the open sea where we struggled against high winds and waves, and finally into a shitty fishing bar where we battled rednecks arm to arm.

I had been going to the gym for months to be able to beat my entire crew in arm wrestling but -- blame it on my naturally wiry frame -- I could not conquer a single person.

Jason's biceps shattered the egos of all our mancation participants and our vein-popping arms and knuckles were easily laid to rest face down on the table.

And the rest of the crew gained a new respect for Jason -- an admiration that brought us to brag out loud about his arm wrestling abilities to a drunken group of rednecks at a bar, challenging them to an elbows-on-table duel -- our strongest versus their strongest.

The challenge was met by a forklift operator from central PA whose crew (on their own mancation) claimed that he could beat anyone.

Fuck that. We knew Jason could put this sad old fucker down quick. Maybe even sober him up a little.

As the battle began, the bar had let out and us guys were on the porch drinking. It was 2:30 AM. Everyone's hammered. And in the middle of this, Jason and this old redneck fucker are knelt down, hands clenched together, elbows on the table, surrounded by about 10 dudes -- five chanting for one side, five for the other.

It was tense, to say the least.

The first arm wrestle ended with a disqualification because Jason accidentally lifted his elbow off the table for leverage -- a big no-no in the International Rulebook of Mancation Arm Wrestling.

The battle had been pretty heated, so right afterwards we all sat back down to relax and smoke cigarettes. Casual conversation resumed, but Jason was uncharacteristically quiet, pensively smoking his cigarette, enjoying his 2AM drunkenness.

But after a few minutes, out of nowhere, Jason broke his silence and slowly and deliberately addressed the nasty ole redneck he'd just been disqualified from competing against. What Jason said next made the entire group -- 10 drunk-as-fuck dudes -- pause for a split second, then jump up, shouting and flailing toward each other.

Blowing cigarette smoke into the June air, Jason's slurred voice said to the old redneck:

"I could tell your right arm was stronger than your left -- must be from jerking yer two-inch DICK too much."


After the resulting shouting subsided, the two groups decided the only way to bury Jason's comment was to have a second duel. We brought both parties back to the table, much the same as before: two guys battling, poised on the table, and 10 dudes shouting aggressive encouragement or taunts into their faces.

But this time Jason didn't lift his elbow, was not disqualified, and clearly put the old redneck's arm where it belonged -- knuckles to table. But that's not how their mancation crew had observed it; they immediately began shouting that Jason had cheated a second time, and we began shouting to the contrary.

A bar brawl was brewing between the two groups of drunks, and as the Captain of the ship, I made the decision to get everyone the fuck out of the bar ASAP. I began shoving my guys out, tripping and dropping cigarette ash and drinks the whole way through the door and back to our rental house.

And my actions prevented a full scale bar brawl. Arm wrestling is part and parcel of any good mancation but I didn't want to start a bloodbath in a bar that we'd like to return to next year. So my crew stayed safe that night. Sometimes I make good decisions, I suppose.

Here's the photographic evidence:

Jason (right), beating members of our crew:

Jason (right), beating more members of our crew:

Jason (right), and the old redneck fucker:

Jason (right), beating the old redneck fucker for the first time (notice that Jase is still holding his drink):

Jason (right), beating the old redneck fucker for the SECOND time:

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

I bought a bigger sailboat and damn it feels good.

Non-boat people stop reading right now.

Ok, still with me? That's right, I bought a 27 foot Cal built in 1973. I've been sailing a 23 foot O'Day from 1972 and that shit was held together with duck tape and wire. A fine day sailer, but not much of a full weekender.

And my wife supported me, damn! After I stopped listing the reasons why I couldn't buy it, I gave enough reasons to buy it to cut the check. Here are some of the finer points of the new sailboat:

- Three headsails: a 180 genoa, a 135 genoa and a working jib.

- The hull is dark green!

- The spreader is a CHUNK OF MAHOGANY. Actually, there's lots of wood that needs lots of varnishing (I love doing that shit).

- 1999 4-stroke 8 hp motor that's just been re-built.

- A cabin that's BONE DRY (this is new for me).

- 2 massive 6 volt forklift batteries.

- Full galley with lots of dark wood and working sink.

- Full wet locker.

- AC power converter

- Three anchors, one with 150 feet of SOLID CHAIN.

- And lots, lots more.

And I'm giving my old boat away to whoever wants it. Faye's already expressed interest so she has dibs. But if she decides it won't work out, let me know. Actually, if you want it with motor, I'll have to charge you because it's a 4-stroke 4hp that I bought new in 2003. Any interest, email me: lonniebruner AT gmail.

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