Having your own way on your own boat during many years of sailing alone can sometimes turn an ordinarily pleasant boat owner (like me) into a spoiled boat brat on the rare occasions when guests are on board.
Rather than risk putting these people through annoying situations, I prefer single-handing, with only myself to blame if things go awry. That way no one is offended when told what to do and what not to do.
But sometimes we humans crave the need for company on the water, and I must then restrain my nautical rights — in accordance with the immutable laws of the sea as captain, owner, master and commander — to issue and enforce orders.
Incidentally, I avoid having racing sailors on board for fear they will turn the tables and point out errors in my way of sailing, which would, in turn, be very annoying. I could probably learn a few things from weekend warriors, but why push it? On the other hand, when I am a guest on someone else’s boat, I reverse my behavior patterns and often begin telling owners how to sail their own boats.
When guests arrive at the dock to sail on my boat, I try to control myself the minute they step aboard the wrong way until they step off the wrong way at day’s end. The right ways for me may not necessarily be right for others.
The first irritant is all those bags they’re bringing aboard and what on earth is in them. Peanuts (nuts in the shell are the worst), popcorn, pretzels? That stuff will wind up all over the boat and under the sole boards and in the bilge. Spilled red wine staining my tan cockpit cushions is another problem, and please, no bottled beer.
So they lurch aboard, the boat moves underfoot, and they grab for anything to steady themselves. One such guest once went flying through the air and cracked her nose on the cabin top. What a way to start a sail, with an icepack to a swollen, bloody nose. Another went over the side at a dock at night and disappeared. About to leap in after her, I heard a clunk on the boat’s bottom as the natural law of buoyancy brought her to the surface spitting and coughing and thrashing about.
Anyway, preparing for a departure last summer, all the stuff my two guests brought on board was unpacked and scattered in the cabin. “No, no,” I say, “things must be stowed and secured forward in the V-berth so it won’t roll about.” That accomplished, I positioned them where they wouldn’t get in the way or hurt themselves on my Sailmaster 22. I stationed the woman in the cabin, at a safe striking distance from the boom, and the man in the cockpit, forewarning him that I would be raising the mainsail and the boom would be swinging menacingly overhead like a club while the sail was hoisted through lazyjacks.
I have found it impossible to ask guests to do this or that with this or that line, the names of which mean absolutely nothing to landlubbers. Best to do it myself. But I did ask the man not to stand up and grab the boom to stop the sail from shaking because it was OK for that to happen while I hoisted from the cockpit. Naturally, though, he stood up to grab the boom and got hit on the head by it.
OK, the mainsail was up, and the woman could come out of the cabin and join us in the cockpit, which is rather small. We motored through the Spa Creek Drawbridge and out into the mouth of the Severn River, where the woman, back in the cabin, commenced preparing food and drink: meats, cheese, crackers, French bread, mustard, and red and white wine, with napkins, plastic knives and forks, salt and pepper, etc. This made boat brat nervous, and I advised waiting until the jib was rolled out and we were under sail and not heeling too much or else all would slide asunder. (I’d much rather sail than eat on board anyway.)
So the food was put on hold, and off we went on a close reach in a 15-knot breeze toward the Thomas Point Lighthouse. I lit a cigar and asked the woman to please grab some beer, which she did but at the risk of staying below too long and getting seasick.
“Must you smoke that awful cigar? I don’t feel so good,” she said, deserting the cabin for some fresh air with smoke pouring from the brat’s human chimney. I tossed the expensive cigar over the side in a snitty, unhappy act of compliance, and things got quiet.
I went below for beer, leaving the man at the helm sawing the tiller in a maddening back-and-forth motion as if trying to propel the boat with the rudder. Boat brat told him if he kept the rudder still the boat would stay on a steady course and not jump about all over the place. It worked for a little while, but then he was back to his evil ways.
The boat heeled over hard to port with the man and I seated to weather, while the woman was to leeward and far aft in the cockpit. The mainsheet came all the way over to port on the traveler and jammed behind her backrest cushion (she called it a pillow), which prevented spilling air in a hurry. I asked politely if she would move back to a standing position in the cabin (with the hatch open) because there was no room for her on the windward side with us and her weight was doing no good there.
Offended by the wisecrack, she didn’t relish the idea of returning to the cabin from whence she had retreated with good cause, but followed boat brat’s command nonetheless. In the process of awkwardly moving but in no great hurry, we got hit with a blast and she landed on the port deck, with the rail down and her leg over the side and dragging in the water. She blamed her crash on me because I was in the act of rescuing the tiller from the see-saw man and trying to move him, gain control, spill the main, and head up into the gusts all at the same time.
Back in the cabin, the woman showed no interest in food or beverages and asked, rather coyly, if we could head to shore — and solid ground — for lunch.
I eased the sheets for a flat run across Chesapeake Bay to the Kentmorr Crab House and Marina on Kent Island. I handed her the tiller to get her mind off being seasick. With that move, the boat was all over the place — on course, off course, the jib flopping back and forth, the main jibing.
We entered the channel, tied up at a slip, and had lunch, then faced beating and tacking into a 15-knot northwest headwind all the way back to Annapolis. I finally relented and stopped telling the helmsperson to head up or fall off and reminding to keep an eye on the flow of the telltales on the luff of the jib and the leech of the main. There was just no point to it.
Not making much progress, I started the outboard, rolled up the jib, and we motorsailed to the harbor, where we grabbed a temporary mooring and dropped the main. The man jumped over for a swim, and the woman popped open a bottle of champagne and pulled out the cheese and crackers. She had her second wind, and was feeling much better and raring to go.
At the dock it is always amazing how quickly guests leave the boat, but maybe sailing with a boat brat has something to do with such a hurried exodus.
So there … that’s why I sail solo.
Jack Sherwood is a senior writer for Soundings and is based in Annapolis, Md.