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October 22, 2000

 

Sodus Point, somewhere on Lake Ontario somewhat near Rochester somewhat near Buffalo in the state of New York - but still in the good 'ol USA.

 

Cruising at 37,000 feet, crunched into an American Airlines coach class seat, with my elbows tucked to my sides I ate my fried chicken tenders and a salad from a plastic bowl designed for minihutians. Right hand up for a piece of salad, right hand down to lap. Left hand up for sip of wine, left hand down to lap. Never left and right hand up at the same time. I finished my wine and the dessert cookie. The dinner's package residue folded into a neat 4" x 6" stack of plastic and paper, soon scooped away by the flight attendant. In Phoenix I remembered the ticket agent had said, "There will be dinner served on the plane!" Yup, she was right. I'm in the window seat, my favorite, sitting, slightly reclining, feet together, head looking forward just as some McDonnell Douglas engineer graphically drew the generic passenger in the design stages of this ship.

The MD 80 powers back and glides into Providence, Rhode Island. It's 11:30 PM Eastern Time. My body knows it is really 3:30 AM Pacific Daylight Saving time. I am so tired, but tired as we both are, Ellen and I have high hopes. Rhode Island, the sailboat building capital of the world, must have our next home. Famous boats, talented designers and skilled boat builders reside here, or have resided here. The plan? We find a design we like, put it on a truck and ship it to Anacortes for some cruising in the San Juan Islands. Considering our history for the last year, I'm also thinking, "Maybe this is our last attempt. Failing this, there could be nothing. Where do we look for a boat after this? England, France, Upper Swabovia? Do they have boats in Lapland?

We land, and deplane (My english professor, Mr. Vietti, always hated that word.). I go to the car rental desk, and Ellen is left to lug our bags from the carousel. Hertz said they had the mid sized car that I reserved. Things were going well! I walked outside to the Hertz lot. Putting the key into the car door, I noticed that it was a Lincoln Town Car. Hertz is definitely number one if they call this thing "midsized". Leather, velour, 6-way power seats, inside and outside temperature readouts, power locks everywhere and strategic little spotlights that could specifically illuminate any part of my body from nose to toe. Perfect! I got an upgrade rental!

The next morning, driving up from Newport, we turned left off the highway. Down the hill a ways, we drove right into the Little Harbor Boat Yard. Right in front of us were more 100-foot yachts than I have seen in a lifetime. Helped here by our own appearance of prosperity, we drive slowly in the big Lincoln. A uniformed "yard policeman" directed us to a "reserved" parking spot in front of the brokerage office. Here we meet Chris Fairfax, a young and truly helpful boat broker. He had been a big boat captain and had sailing experience in the Mediterranean and the East Coast of the US. A nice guy and a pleasantly unaggressive broker, he showed us some interesting cruising boats around the yard and tried to understand our interests.

Day one and the net effect is that we didn't find a boat. Why do we find so many boats unsatisfactory? I have thought about that, and I actually have an answer. Boats are designed to sell in today's marketplace, and the marketplace of buyers is primarily interested in house-like comforts in their boat. They like to read about Joshua Slocum sailing alone around the world, but they don't want to live like him. Their boat should have pressure water, air conditioning (two units), a heater, a four burner stove (broiler and oven) with piezo electric igniter, and a 110 volt power supply. Can the minature poodle get in and out easily? Is there a stall shower? Is there a TV with a waterproof cable hookup provision? Then the big question where more is definitely better, "How many does it sleep?" Outside, there should be NO wood showing, nothing that must be varnished. Exterior maintenance should be minimal. Such a boat is made of white fiberglass, white vinyl, aluminum and stainless steel. That's the demand, and most boats are built to meet it.

At the boat show people don't wait to look at a boat's lines, the deck layout or the rig. They stand in line so they can pour down the main hatch and see what's inside. That's OK. It's just not my goal to own a harbor queen, where the owner serves brunch and cocktails on Sunday. I like all boaters, and I can be a friend with any skipper who wants to so enjoy his boat, his "romance of the seas". Ellen and I want a boat that is dedicated to cruising for two persons, basically. The boat cliché, "Six for cocktails, four for dinner and two for bed." is a guideline. Chris says, "I think you and I have similar tastes in boats.", and I now think our search will produce something. With his advice, we head for Lake Ontario to see a particularly interesting cruising design. This boat has alot of what we need, a single toilet (head), a comfortable double berth, a good pedigree (boat designer/builder history), "traditional" lines and a simple rig (sailplan) easily managed by two old people. It sounds nice. However, ... it doesn't have a holding tank!

The question of the "holding tank" is no mean issue when it comes to purchasing a boat. In the early 70's the Coast Guard and some state governments mandated that discharging human waste overboard was no longer acceptable. All marine heads (toilets) in private boats were to empty into a "holding tank" secured aboard the boat. The tank was to be discharged at "necessary" intervals at "convenient" discharge stations located, supposedly, in marinas. This created quite a stir as virtually the whole pleasure boating fleet had to be retrofitted. Boats were not designed with a space to accommodate the holding tank "device". Marinas didn't have and didn't want a "dump station".

Jerry Byrd was a great friend, a retired airline captain with a sense of humor. I remember the tale of "I don't know if I have to go 25 cents worth." It was 1971, and Jerry and his wife lived aboard a Grand Banks trawler just behind me at Alameda Marina, Alameda, California. We toiled with the question of how to meet the new holding tank rules as did the boat repair yards and manufacturers. One company had a great idea. They came out with a product that pumped the toilet waste into a holding chamber-tank and then macerated the stuff while injecting a chemical. This resultant soup was called "treated waste" and discharging it overboard was considered an acceptable procedure at the time. Each chemical treatment came in the form of a pill. Every time the head (toilet) was pumped a pill was injected, the pill was mixed in and the "mixture", so treated, was pumped overboard.

Every boater has a primal urge to neatly get rid of that stuff and not carry it around with him. Since there were very few pumpout stations, this treatment/discharge was an appealing idea. You did not have to carry around a tankful of smelly waste while waiting to find a certified "dump station". Jerry Byrd installed this pill injecting type of head and tank in his Grand Banks Trawler and envisioned cruising with the smell of fresh air and no regard for stops at "pump out stations". A careful and detailing man, it didn't take Jerry long to compute that each chemical pill had a unit cost. He computed that each pill cost twenty-five cents. Now a quarter meant something to all of us in the 70's, and that's what it cost every time anyone used Jerry's water closet (also known as a marine toilet, the head or simply the "beast").

Jerry liked good brandy. One winter night Ellen and I were aboard Jerry's boat sipping some warm brandy that we brought over. Where we both secured our boats at end ties in the marina, the winter storm chop in the Estuary gave a pitch and roll to the boat. Inside the boat things were warm and cheery while we listened to his old flying stories. Despite our comfortable surroundings, Jerry noticeably kept squirming as we talked. He crossed and uncrossed his legs. I finally said, "Jerry what's wrong. You can't sit still." He said, "You're right, I can't sit still. I have to use the damn head!"

"So what. Go use it!" I answered.

Jerry blurted out, "It costs 25 cents, and I don't have to go 25 cents worth yet!!" I suggested to Jerry, "Some toilet episodes may turn out to be worth more than 25 cents, some considerably more, even, let's say, up to $5.00. Jerry, the more important trips surely should offset the lesser value trips." A long minute later, he got up and went ... at least 25 cents worth, I bet! Today, the pill, macerator, pump overboard system is no longer acceptable. So, this boat "Artemis" that we're about to see on Lake Ontario, has no holding tank ... and must be fitted with one.

 

Sodus Point on Lake Ontario is a rural, small summer vacation spot bedded in the trees and rolling hills of the North East US. Today we're here to see "Artemis", a 44 foot fiberglass ketch. She's is in a wood cradle in a dimly lit shed, prepped for winter storage. After scrutinizing her rudder, propeller and hull bottom and after prying open her insides from pulpit to bilge to stern rail we decided that this boat was perfect. Yes folks, she has lots of wood and varnish and wide decks and a spoon bow and a proper transom. This boat meets our every need, we thought. Happy we were as our metallic gray Lincoln Town Car conveyed us back to Rhode Island. We wrote an offer to buy "Artemis", we left the Ted Hood yard, enplaned another MD 80 and flew to Mesa, Arizona (grandma's house). Here we had left our fully loaded (with everything we own, that is) Ford F150 pickup. We are now off to a "sailboat-sitting" job in Canada, a job caring for an old friend's fiberglass cutter. His newly acquired boat, a 46 foot Norseman 447, is berthed in Victoria, B.C. where it will be berthed until he can take a sabbatical in April and do some cruising himself. We now have a chance to get back on a boat! Here we are "on the road again". Truck'in with a stop in the wine country at Kenwood, a stop in Cresent City where we lodged at the Curly Redwood Motor Lodge, and a stop for a day in Kelso, Washington put us near Port Angeles, Washington on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We now prepped for the border crossing into Canada.

We don't take Canadian border crossings lightly anymore. A year ago we were unsuccessful in our attempt to enter Canada to look at a fairly new fiberglass cutter in Maple Bay, BC. That time, in a typical early morning Seattle drizzle, we left our hotel 'cruzin' for the Canadian border near Vancouver. Approaching the flag decorated crossing gate, we waited in our line of cars. I don't know why, but to me all border customs agents seem irritable. An airplane mechanic I know says, "They're safety wired in the pissed-off position.", and today's experience proved it. The crossing station's fixed overhead video camera recorded our approach as we slowly advanced in our fully loaded Ford F150. There, without empathy, this border station woman, trained in cynicysm and distrust, waited.

"Where 'ya going? she said."

I said, "Maple Bay, British Columbia."

"What are you 'gonna do there?"

Happily, I said, "I'm going to look at a boat to buy. I want to cruise a sailboat in the San Juan Islands."

"Where are you from?"

I hesitated (presently I'm not sure where we "live" in the traditional sense of the word) and said, "Er, ah Mesa, ... Mesa, Arizona." Ellen nudged me saying softly, "That's grandma's house. That's just where we get our mail forwarded. We don't really live there."

The border Nazi hearing this paused and said, "Why do you have Maryland license plates?"

I said, "I, I was cruising a boat on the East Coast. We decided to sell the boat and come to the West Coast. I bought this truck in Maryland where we sold the boat."

"Do you have anything that you're going to sell in the back of that truck?"

I said, "Uh, no."

"Any animals?" she said.

"No, no animals"

"What's all that stuff in the back there?"

I said, "That's all my gear from the boat. We were living aboard the boat, and we had lots of stuff."

"Do you have any guns in there?"

I said, "Yes I do. A shotgun and two pistols."

She then raised her upper lip, her eyes narrowed, she furrowed her brow and wrote something on a piece of white paper. I felt we had met the devil, and she wasn't nice. Breaking eye contact, she looked away, "Take this paper to the office by the red cone in the roadway ahead." We drove to the red cone, parked and went inside. The desk nazi took our driver's licenses and disappeared to another room. They're going run our licenses thru R & I, I guessed. Ellen and I hoped neither of us had a warrant recorded for some old outstanding traffic ticket. We could go to jail.

In the other room with us, the associate desk nazi said, "Guns aren't allowed in Canada. To enter, we'd have to store the guns in a locker in the USA. We could then try to come through the border again.

I said, gently, that I had a paid-for ferryboat reservation for Maple Bay, and the boat was due to leave in twenty minutes.

Ignoring that, she added, "Your license plate number has been entered into the computer. When you try to enter Canada the next time, that is after you have stored your guns, they will stop you at the border again and ask about that stuff in the back of the truck. They'll probably think you're trying to immigrate to Canada. They still may not let you enter ... even without the guns."

Realizing that it was hopeless, I said, "May I just make a 180 degree turn and go back to the USA?" She said, "Yes, of course."

Backing away from the red cone, I turned the F150 and headed home. Stepping outside her office, she watched us, assuring herself that we were headed in the right direction, away.

Now, slowly driving back to the US border, I could see Old Glory waving over the customs crossing gate. We eased up to where the uniformed US customs officer said, "Where are you going?"

"Washington", I said.

"Where have you been?"

"About fifty feet into Canada."

"Where do you live?"

I said, "Mesa, Arizona. Sir." Ellen added nothing this time.

"Why do you have Maryland license plates?" "Why didn't you go into Canada?" If this officer didn't like me, I was going to be a man without a country. We couldn't do another "180". How long can you stay in that green grassy area between the flags and the two border stations?

I told this US customs agent about sailing on the East Coast, the firearms, and the stuff in back of the truck. He courteously said, "Have a nice day sir." and waved me on. We never got to see the boat in Maple Bay.

 

The last time we tried, and failed, to enter Canada was from Vancouver. It's a year later, now, and I felt a seaward approach into Canada would be better. We drove to Port Angeles, boarded the car ferry, "Coho", crossed the Strait of Juan de Fuca and arrived in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Off the ferry, we advanced two hundred feet toward the Canadian customs station. We had a letter, written by Mark, declaring that we were going to stay on his boat for a few months. Ellen and I had our passports handy, and we tidied up the truck's front seat and pockets. The arms, part of the problem last time, were stored in California. The hand guns, the sawed off shotgun, the 6 inch mortar, two claymore mines and three Uzi's were all safely stored in a box with the night vision goggles and explosive putty. This secreted box was entirely covered by my camo jump suit. (Just kidding!!)

 

A polite and gracious Canadian customs lady asked a few questions, checked our Maryland driver's licenses and waved us through. We were in Victoria, BC! We had done it! We found Mark's boat on Wharf Street and moved aboard. Aboard a boat again, I said, it feels good to be off the land. We've been here a week now. We've been treated very nicely in this beautiful city. The US dollar brings $1.50 Canadian dollars. As it is everywhere, sailing friends are easy to make. On the dock just two days ago, I met 72 year old Fritz. He defected from the German Army in 1945 and came to Canada. He said he built a boat, he went sailing, he married a bare breasted south seas girl, and now he has a 5 year old son. He just underwent a hip replacement surgery and can't ride his motorcycle. I'll invite him for a dinner aboard, for sure, we can talk.

 

With regards to all,

Terry and Ellen

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