Under Way - Soundings Online

Under Way

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Essex to Chile as the crow flies

Essex to Chile as the crow flies

The squall blew snow sideways as I crossed the narrow channel. The sun was already down, and another long night was upon us. I sunk into my coat for warmth and made small talk with the ferry driver, a young man unashamed to say he was cold.

My destination was the 44-foot wooden Pacemaker Sunliner (1966 vintage) tied up against a bulkhead across the way. I could see a light on and knew that it would be warm inside. On board, Seaver Jones was making plans for his winter — and they didn’t involve waiting for the big tidal river flowing beneath us to freeze.

Jones’ boat is named Crow Flight, but its wings will be clipped for the next several months. She’s fated to spend the winter in the water in Essex, Conn., where our magazine is home-ported. Jones, meanwhile, was under no such restrictions. When I visited him, he was preparing for his annual migration to Chile, where he bought about 62 acres of land a few years back, along the Futaleufu River in the Andes Mountains. It’s beautiful. I’ve seen the photos.

I slipped aboard, and Jones greeted me on the aft deck. “You brought something to drink,” he says, eyeing the bag under my arm. “Anything good?” He reached inside for a Mexican beer and smiled. The beer leads to stories about Mexico and brings back good memories for both of us.

That visit took place a year ago. Fast forward to this December and — right on cue — Jones calls again. He’s just brought Crow Flight back to Essex for her winter siesta from East Boston, where he lives on her and makes a living taking tourists on harbor tours aboard an amphibious “Duck” boat. It’s always good to hear from Jones, but at this time of year I admit his voice triggers a certain faraway feeling. The Germans have a word for it: Zugunruhe. It’s a term that describes the migratory restlessness shown by animals prevented from migrating, especially birds. Think of a hawk in a cage.

Jones was getting ready to stretch his wings and fly south into summer. Me? I’d just finished winterizing my boat, putting snow tires on the van, and getting my head around the idea of spending another winter in New England. We were headed in different directions.

“Come visit me in Chile,” he bellows over the phone. I settle for another evening in the saloon of Crow Flight, where Jones breaks out a laptop and shows me his latest photos of Chilean trout, the house he’s putting up by the beautiful river, and an interesting-looking indigenous fishing boat he’s considering having built for coastal expeditions.

“I’d like to build a boat down there,” Jones says. “All of my life’s interests are coming together for me.”

Jones is one of those colorful waterfront characters whom you can’t quite remember how you met, but you’re richer for the intersection. He’s a blacksmith, carpenter, cabinetmaker, writer, storyteller, liveaboard, white-water guide and, for the moment at least, seasonal “Duck” driver. It is not exaggerating to say his appetite for life is big — and infectious.

“I’m way too wild,” admits the burly, 52-year-old with a good laugh. “My ambitions go all over the place.”

We spend the evening swapping lies and talking about boats, fish and places with funny names that are hard to find on a map or chart. And we make loose plans to rendezvous next season in Cuttyhunk, Mass., where Jones will assemble a group of pirates for poker on Crow Flight and plenty of fishing.

Not long after my evening aboard Jones’ “trophy home,” I received an e-mail from Peter Swanson, another interesting character and sometime contributor to Soundings, who recently spent several months cruising the Bahamas aboard his Morgan Out Island 41.

Anyway, Swanson has been after me for some time to explore Cuba with him. He has visited Cuba twice in the last four years and operates a Web site for those interested in finding out more about the country’s cruising grounds (www.cubacruising.net). His message, in part, read:

“Dude, I have a plan. Two nights at the Marina Hemingway in Havana, two nights at Varadero, one night at Marina Hemingway. Between Havana and Varadero is the old port city of Matanzas, where I have never been and would propose to explore. … We could finagle a tour of the old Havana Yacht Club … a very cool place.”

The extended forecast calls for snow. Somewhere overhead, geese in loose chevrons are sliding over the treetops, moonlight reflecting off their wings. Reeling from a bad case of Zugunruhe, I push off with my heels and explore the boundaries of my office in a chair on wheels.

How many months before the boat is back in the water?