As I stood on the dock at Deale, fiddling with my shore power connection and waiting for Perkins to warm up, a thirty something foot trawler passed by. She had the unmistakable look of a fellow long distance cruising boat, and was moving with a sense of purpose toward the harbor exit. I suddenly felt like I was running behind. I wanted to fall in line with her and join the convoy! The excitable small dog in me wanted to hurry up and catch her. Maybe gnaw on her ankle a little bit. SQUIRREL!
I rapped myself on the nose with a rolled up newspaper as a reminder that I was not a small excitable dog, and that I wasn’t even close to being in a hurry. It didn’t make a damn bit of difference if I left the dock or not, let alone what time it was, or who left the harbor first. ‘It’s not a race.’ I told myself, and I continued my preflight checks at a leisurely pace.
When I did finally depart, I found that the other guy had stopped at the fuel dock, which of course meant we’d TAKEN THE LEAD! We passed through the breakwater long before those LOSERS ever even knew they were in a race! EAT MY ROAD GRIT, LIVER LIPS!
I was clearly a superior mariner in every respect. I gave myself a Milkbone for being such a good boy.
Once clear of the harbor, and steady on my southerly course, I flipped on the autopilot with a familiar and satisfying click. What happened next was neither familiar, nor satisfying. Sylphide took a hard turn to the left.
‘Well what the hell’s that all about?’ I asked the autopilot.
It didn’t answer. I switched it off, and got us pointing in the right direction again. I double checked the settings, and tried again. She went hard left again.
‘Where the hell are you going, mister?’ I demanded of the machine.
The little black box still had nothing to say for itself. It just blinked it’s green LED at me in silence. I repeated the process a few more times, and got the same result. The thought of having to hand steer for the next several hundred miles started gathering in my mind like a line of squalls on the horizon. In the interest of science, I decided to see what would happen if I just let the autopilot do what it wanted. Eventually, it did steady up on a heading, but in the exact opposite direction to the one I wanted. If I wanted to go south, I’d have to tell my idiot helmsman to go north. So, that’s what I did.
I started cursing the Zimmerman guys. They’d been rummaging around in my dash! They must have crossed a wire somewhere! It’s sabotage! I bet they expect me to come back and spend another gob of thousands on a new auto pilot! Those utter turds!
While I stewed over that, and thought about just painting a new arrow on the knob of my now apparently insane Autopilot, I took a peek at the chart plotter. My competition had returned. Obviously cheating, they had taken a shortcut, and were a solid knot faster than Sylphide. Slowly but surely, they closed the gap between us. Inevitably, they overtook us.
This was perfectly acceptable of course, and not a big deal in any way, because it’s not like we were in some kind of race or something, and there was no reason to be in a hurry, and anyway they were probably being reckless. I mean who really needs to go 8.5 knots anyway? That’s just excessive! The maniacs! They should really slow down and take in the scenery and not waste so much fuel and go easy on their engines and not throw such a big and inconsiderate wake! Yeah!
Anyway, that’s when I realized that some of the small writing on the edge of my compass was… upside down? Or wait, had it always been like that? No… surely not. Then a light bulb appeared over my head as I remembered the Zim-tech saying he’d had to take the compass out to wire up the switches for the plotter. Could it be that simple? Had they just put the silly thing in backwards? It would be an easy enough mistake to make. I loosened up the thumb screws, lifted the assembly out, turned it 180 degrees, and set it back in. I turned the autopilot back on, and wouldn’t ya know it, everything was back to normal.
Behold the dazzling brilliance of a GOD DAMN MARITIME PROFESSIONAL! Avert your eyes, lest they be forever blinded by the magnificence of my genius!
The rest of that travel day was largely uneventful, but excessively pleasant. The wind and seas were calm, and the temperature was luxuriously comfortable. I listened to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and found it more dated, and less engaging than I’d hoped.
As the sunset reached it’s peak of splendidness and gloritude, we noodled our way into the Great Wicomico River. We passed Reedville, with it’s fragrant fish factory, and hooked a left around the tip of Sandy Point. The anchor was set before twilight, and we settled in for another cozy night on the hook. I found that my anchor light at the very top of the mast wasn’t working, but decided I didn’t feel like shimmying my big ass all the way up there to see if it had been installed backwards while I wasn’t looking. Instead, I turned on the nav lights, and covered up the red and green sidelights. It wasn’t technically correct, but I was showing a white light all the way around, which would have to be close enough. The place was deserted anyway. It was marvelous.
The next morning, as my fluids warmed to operating temperature, and the engine had it’s coffee, I surveyed the marvelous weather. It was clear and bright and warm, and the sea was as smooth as the top of my head. As I plotted my course for the day, I saw a boat leaving Reedville. It was them! Those bastards had beaten me off the line again! I started barking loudly and clawing at the windshield. They didn’t hear me, and didn’t stop. Soon they were gone, and I was distracted by a random smell or something, and forgot all about it.
Boy, this is a weird one, isn’t it?
Anyway, when I was damn good and ready, we hove anchor and headed back out into the glittering Chesapeake. The bay was like a swimming pool all day. The only breeze ruffling my flags was the one we made ourselves. I spent the day fiddling with my plotter, trying to figure out what all the buttons do, and getting the settings and displays set just-so. I chipped away at some more Jules Verne. I talked to my dad, and texted my mom and my sister.
Around mid afternoon, somewhere off Mobjack Bay, a pod of dolphins came charging over from the east. I scuttled out to the bow just in time to meet them there. They swam ahead of Sylphide, and played in her bow wave. Four or five of them jockeyed around for position just below the surface. They swam on their sides and looked at me. I looked at them. I giggled profusely. They jumped a few times. I giggled some more, far more than any self respecting grown man should ever admit to. Then, after maybe a minute, they darted off to go do important dolphin stuff somewhere else.
For years and years, I’d watched moments like that in other people’s YouTube videos and thought ‘Well that looks amazing, I want some of that in my life.’ and there I was, living the dream. It was every bit as wonderful as I’d hoped. It made my day.
I surfed that wave of feel-good all the way into Salt Ponds Inlet, just as the sun dipped below the horizon. I lassoed myself a dock just across the fairway from where I’d stayed last time I was in town, and settled in. I booked myself in for a few days to recharge, refresh and restock. We had reached the bottom end of the Chesapeake. The Bay had been good to us this year.