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Softball or sailing? That’s an easy one

Erewhon’s topsides needed painting this year but this time the reason was too important for a quickie DIY make-over. Boatyard pros had to handle this delicate assignment, which unfortunately did not turn out as well as expected (more about that in a bit), although the purpose of the painting exceeded all expectations.

The Tripper's granddaughter, Claire, is a standout softball player but also a natural on the tiller.

I had a good excuse to splurge because I was out to impress a teenager named Claire who had taken an interest in my boat and my sport of sailing. This can lead to irrational behavior on the part of an old man with an old sailboat, but this particular damsel is very special. Claire is my tall, slim, leggy, athletic (and only) grandchild. She has been sidetracked from sailing because of success with softball in Europe, where she has lived for the past three years. She was the team’s best fielder (third base), best pitcher and hitter, and was voted most valuable player and team captain. My goal is to lure her away from softball and commit her to sailing.

She proved to be a natural at the tiller of my Sailmaster 22W last summer, so my boat simply had to be spiffed up for her “farewell” sailing visit in July. This talented 13-year-old speaks German and lives mostly abroad with her Foreign Service family. There is a bittersweet element of sadness to her rare visits because I have not been able to watch her grow into a 5-foot-4-inch teenager weighing 94 pounds.

And now the U.S. State Department is reassigning them from Frankfurt to Bangkok for a new three-year post. So it’s yet another tearful goodbye to ClaireBear — and Mark and Betsy, of course. (She has been informed that I will enroll her in a beginners’ junior sailing program at Bangkok’s Royal Varuna Yacht Club, the center of sailing in Thailand.)

During our July outing aboard Erewhon, I no sooner killed my 4-hp Yamaha and rolled out the jib than Claire asked when she could steer. Once again, this was music to my hearing-impaired ears. Weather conditions were ideal for this second annual sail with her family. We crossed the Bay from Annapolis to Kent Island on one 5-mile port tack in an 8-knot northeasterly flow. Claire takes to sailing as well as she does to swimming and handling a bat, ball and glove.

When she asked for permission to go “up front,” I granted that request after correcting her destination to “the foredeck.” She enjoyed the motion at the pointy end as much as steering, and she dangled her long legs over the side, watching the water being parted at a gentle 4 knots of speed. The wind dropped on the return sail, so we rolled up the jib and motorsailed home to Spa Creek after a roundabout in Ego Alley at the City Dock to show off our new paint.

With one day sail done, I was anxious to find another on a large vessel. We had sailed aboard Woodwind last year, the Annapolis-based headboat schooner. My thoughts turned to the remote chance of finding a cruising catamaran so we could pile in all my family members. I called an old friend, Eric Smith, for ideas. I have known him since the early 1970s after he founded Bay Yacht Agency in Annapolis. Now a dealer of Fountaine Pajot luxury cats (and Jeanneau monohulls), his Atlantic Cruising Yachts charter operation is based in Eastport.

As luck would have it, Smith and crew were planning a demo day sail for potential clients in a big cat that very week and invited my group to come along. “There’s plenty of room,” he said. What a contrast between my 22-footer with an 8-foot beam and this multilevel 43.5-footer with a beam of 24.3 feet. My head is a primitive bucket. Mon Amie, a privately owned air-conditioned catamaran available for charter here and in the British Virgin Islands, has four cabins with three heads and showers.

During our outing, a southerly was piping at 18 to 20 knots with rolling seas, but Smith backed the cat out with relative ease in a tightly packed marina next to a rental beehive of paddleboarders and kayakers inexperienced with the motions of large yachts.

Raising the main through a net of lazyjacks was accomplished with the aid of a power winch, and soon we were off sailing at 9 knots on a broad starboard reach north to the Bay Bridges. I asked Jodi Lynn, a personable sales consultant, how many were on board, and she smiled, saying, “I’m not sure, but we have plenty of room.” I guessed there were at least 20, and the boat did not feel crowded.

It didn’t take long for my group to take over the trapeze netting and ’tween-hulls deck area forward. My old sailing buddy John Barry, a former Caribbean schooner captain, was my designated photographer, but like me, he avoided the trappings of a net underfoot. The younger, more nimble Sherwoods — Mark, Betsy and Claire, and my other sons Eric and Scott — frolicked in the trapeze, calling out to Claire as our “WonderWoman leader.” All avoided the wet net on the return motorsail into white-capped seas with southerly gusts of 20-plus.

Claire got a bit teary-eyed when hit by a streak of sadness over missing her friends in Frankfurt, but that soon passed as she focused on the activities involved in sailing toward the Bay Bridges. “Can we sail under there, as we did last year on your boat?” she asked. She laughed when I pretended to cover and duck my head as we were about to go under the center span.

“This boat must cost a lot of money — maybe $7,000?” she guessed. It was my key to laugh then, as I said, “How about $700,000?” She opened her mouth in wonderment.

“But I like your boat better. It’s cuter,” she said. I could have grabbed and hugged her then and there if I wasn’t braced and holding on to a lifeline.

Also on board and helping with the sail were Dan Shanahan, 44, and his wife, Elle. They purchased one of these F/P Helia 44s at last year’s Annapolis Sailboat Show and were expecting delivery by early August after an Atlantic crossing from France.

“We’ll be fitting out for cruising here,” says Shanahan, an Edgewater, Maryland, resident and Washington, D.C., lawyer at the prestigious Williams & Connolly firm. “It will be our time with the boat, which will be in charter at Cruise Abaco next year.” The Shanahans have three sons: 14-year-old twins and a 12-year-old eager to sail the new boat — a big step up from the Gemini 34 they cruised for 8 years.

Now, about that boat-painting project, which had a purpose labeled “Claire” behind it. Muller Marine in Eastport was my choice for the topside work. I’d had good experiences there on two past haul-outs with demanding boatwork I could not handle. I opted for the roll-on/tip-off brushing method with a dark green one-part Epifanes enamel.

Alas, the finish was marred with runs, sags and overlaps. Bob Muller and his painters were also disappointed in the outcome but assured me the problem would be corrected to my satisfaction. The hull had to be sanded and painted again, at a monetary loss to the yard. Thankfully, the do-over had almost no brush overlaps, but the finish was more of a semigloss, which was not what I had wanted. And when launch time came prior to the July 4th weekend, there were no friendly farewell waves from the yard crew, unlike my previous departures.

When Claire arrived at my slip for our sail, I proudly pointed out the hull that had just been painted for her visit. She said it looked “really nice” and she especially liked dark green, one of her favorite colors.

And that, dear readers, was good enough for me.

Jack Sherwood is writer at large for Soundings

September 2014 issue.