Saturday, January 7, 2012

Fossil Cruise

Swapping stories this afternoon here on board, I contributed my bit about the time I very nearly run over a 100-foot multimillion dollar Herreshoff antique yacht during a sailboat race in Newport Rhode Island.

A few years ago, before I met the Mrs., out of boredom, while ashore for 6 months off from my regular ship, I took a job as chief mate on a small coastal expedition ship. This particular vessel was outfitted for 1-2 week trips taking very wealthy senior citizens hither and yon on themed cruises to non cruise-hub ports. The ship was too big to comfortably get into many smaller ports, but only just, requiring a certain amount of testicular fortitude at times. She could be shoehorned into Newport, Martha's Vineyard, some spots in Maine, and here and there in the Chesapeake, Savannah, and a few places in Florida, as well. Since the passngers were paying anywhere from $5,000-$10,000 per person per week, the food was French, the crew American, the staff attractive and college educated, and mostly female and under 25 (!) Quite a setup, anyhow.
My days were spent mostly putting out fires; managing the deckhands, sending runners here and there to bolster staff where needed ("Get 3 bodies from the laundry room and send them to help the people vacuuming the port-side balcony carpets. I want them done while the passengers are gumming their lunch."). When inward of the sea buoy, the Captain and I would navigate with the aid of a helmsman. The captain was like me- started out as a commercial fisherman, got a taste for commercial shipping, and hawsepiped into a limited license. Like me, he could be smooth with the (elderly)ladies, and we got to wear uniforms that reeked of Captain Steubing, which we would wear ashore periodically to get phone numbers from bored and lonely WASP's summering on mummy and daddy's dime.
Being an oversized boat in popular small-boat ports, we were often given a certain amount of deference in terms of our transit. Turning within our own boat length was a regular necessity, and thus the boat had twin powerplants and a heavy-lift bowthruster. By the end of the first week, my shiphandling skills had tripled, as had my blood pressure. Once the captain sussed me out, he and I were peas in a pod in terms of handling the boat- I've never so completely synched with someone else's style, to the point where we were working as a perfect bridge team, something (for you non-mariners, anyhow) to which any deck officer perspires over and dreams of in the way that a 12-year old with a locked bathroom door pours over the Victoria's Secret catalogue.

Newport was a regular port-of-call. We went in there once a week while I was sailing on the ship. Docking was a touch tricky, but the channels are for the most part wide and generously proportioned at the turns, which was a good thing. On the day in question, we were sailing in at about 8 knots down a straight fairway with shoal water outside the channel. There were a dozen antique yachts- 100-footers easy, sailing in a regatta on our port side, maybe broad on the bow.
As the situation resolved, I saw that a crossing situation was developing. I pointed it out, confirmed it with the ARPA (Automatic Radar Plotting Aid- the high-falutin' computer system that is Radar on speed- turning radar into an information platform), and stood on my course, as required at that point. I called the boats on the VHF to no avail. As the moments ticked by, I saw that the yachts were going to cross us, creating a close-quarters situation.
At this point, I could see on the deck of the boats all the crew and passengers in uniform. The men were wearing blue blazers and these completely gay hats, The women were in dresses and straw hats, all looking identical and just oozing douchebag entitlement- this was old money engaging in mutual masturbation among peers.
"Christ, look at these assholes. We let them, they're going to stand on and put us in extremis. Watch. " This was the captain. He blew the danger signal on the horn- 5 short blasts. We couldn't leave the channel without running aground on hard bottom, and with our mass, we couldn't slow much given the time we had. Running the throttles to full astern would set up a vibration that would throw the 100% elderly passengers around like beans in a coffee can, but that's what we did. "Full Astern!"
"Full Astern, aye" this was me. I dropped the throttles and took the helm from the bug-eyed college kid who was out helmsman. "You're relieved. You don't want to be involved in this if we bump 'em" As the vibration decreased, then sharply increased as the wheels started cavitating in reverse, I turned the bow towards the yacht, attempting to pass her stern with our bow. The pricks on the sailboat, 30 or so of them, studiously ignored us, even as our horn was surely and repeatedly painfully assaulting their ears. The captain had the button on the horn mashed down.
... and we passed the boat, having lost 1/2knot of forward speed, which was enough to make a difference.

The phone beeped. The hotel manager (ostensibly a supernumerary, but in reality almost as powerful as the captain) squawked on the other end. The captain said "Um hmmm. Um hmmm. Unavoidable, but it's over. Sorry about that." and hung up. And that was that.
"Paul, take her for a minute, would you? I need to shake a turd out of my pants after that." I put the throttles back up to half-ahead and the captain stepped into his room and returned with a couple of cans of diet pepsi for us, and we shortly after docked the boat and let the passengers toddle out.


Borepatch said...

I *so* want to go drinking with you and Uncle Jay sometime. I'll even buy, although I expect that's a $500 bar tab.

I'll tell you my story about dodging Ferry boats in Wood's Hole in my little 24 footer.

Paul, Dammit! said...

I drink Bud light and single malt. I enjoy $3 beers when out. I can't handle drinking with a 2000% markup when I go out.

I'd like to hear that Woods Hole story. We used to drink at the Captain Kidd and watch the horror show going on in Woods Hole Passage. Cheap entertainment for all the techs and grad students at the Marine Biological Laboratory.

Old NFO said...

Submarine, Cooper River, and a 100' yacht... :-)

Paul, Dammit! said...

Old NFO, I made the mistake once of trying to photograph a sub when we were sailing side-by-side up the Straits of Juan De Fuca. After the sub finished chewing out the captain, he then turned about and chewed me a new ass.