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Quest for better, simpler, easier never ends

One would think that after continually refurbishing and rehabbing an older boat for 26 years, there would be little left to do. That is never the case, however, if you have pride in the boat or yourself and want to make its performance more efficient.

Jack Sherwood

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Sailing alone, as I prefer, gives me plenty of time to look around, focus and think about what could be changed, improved, replaced, redesigned or deleted, which is not the case when guests are aboard and conversation on less important matters becomes a distracting factor. On the rare occasion when I host a non-sailing guest, a question may arise about water underfoot in the cockpit and whether we are in danger of sinking. I may explain offhandedly that it took a great deal of effort to cleverly design it so that just enough water will seep in to cool my bare feet, and no more.

Actually, the cockpit is slanted aft to drain water, but the drains should have been placed forward and the deck slanted that way. As it is, my 5-hp Honda digs in under power and any added weight (even my 160 meager pounds) lowers the level of the self-bailers to bring in more water, not let it out. I have tried all sorts of plugs and such, but nothing works. I have even closed one drain, but had to leave one open for rainwater to exit. (Any suggestions out there?)

The Bay Tripper's new spray shield proved its value on a windy day on the Choptank River.

Handy accessories this season have been a sun umbrella and now a removable plastic spray shield that fits across the aft end of my Epifanes-varnished hatch. This is a byproduct of the creative folks at Maritime Plastics in Annapolis, where I rent a cubbyhole office. I snared a scratched, discarded shield and cut it down for my own use. Keith Fletcher, an intense worker, trimmed it for me on a band saw and I did the rest.

I put it to good use in early July while cruising the Eastern Shore and bashing under power for three hours into a 15- to 20-knot headwind with 2- to 3-foot seas on the aptly named Choptank River. I sat half in and half out of the companionway and kept dry while steering with a short, rigged extension strapped to my fixed tiller extension. It drew lots of looks from boaters, who pointed to it and smiled - in approval, I hope. So what if it's a little scratched? It works.

Boaters, especially men, are always looking at other boats. When a small powerboat explores the small cove where I stable my sailboat, the men check out the vessels while the women, without question, look at the million-dollar homes above the docks. When a resident boater is entering or exiting a slip, however, attention is diverted and sometimes the visitors will slow down and watch the maneuvers.

Who among us does not stop and stare to watch a boat landing in a slip, usually with two or three crewmembers either scrambling and yelling or trained and quiet at their respective positions? I have witnessed some ugly scenes and come to handle my own duties better alone at my slip in a calm, slow and orderly fashion.

In fact, if anyone is on board, I ask them to wait inside the cabin, out of the way of the maestro. And, of course, someone is probably watching somewhere. I try not to fumble too much with lines and boat hooks and lose my cool, but the unexpected sometimes happens and you can usually see the problem developing.

An irritating situation sometimes arises when I return to the slip, which I have rigged with a cobweb of dock, pylon and spring lines. When I depart, I toss the port bow line to land and hang a looped starboard bow line on a piling cleat to easily retrieve upon landing at the short finger pier. I toss the port stern line over the port spring line, and the boat hangs in place by the starboard stern line while I pull-start the outboard.

Backing out, I hang that final line on the aft starboard piling, which is the first critical line I pick up while heading in again and is used to stop the boat's momentum. But here comes the problem.

Upon returning, I coast toward the head of the small cove off Spa Creek with the engine in neutral before taking a wide, fast turn to port to slow my forward progress. The centerboard inside my full keel has been raised all the way because there is barely 3 feet of water in the slip. Winds are fluky here and a crosswind will ease the boat away from that aft starboard piling and that stern line I must snare. My 4-foot boat hook is a bit cumbersome for this job and I sometimes miss the snare, but the boat's drift to port is stopped by the port spring line. So I must scramble.

Incidentally, when contemplating an arrival alongside another dock, I have a bow line at the ready that dead-ends at the bow cleat. A stern line tied to the backstay can be led amidships, where I can jump onto a pier with both docking lines.

In my 15 or so years at this private dock of a good, kind, generous, patient, forgiving, sympathetic and understanding friend, I have yet to fall into the drink while doing my complicated minuet and no one has ever had to come to my assistance with that inevitable question: "Are you all right?"

Jack Sherwood is writer at large for Soundings.

This article originally appeared in the October 2010 issue.