Sep 06 2008

Battening down

We pulled the boats in the Cotuit version of an old fashioned barn raising — the Hurricane-Is-A-Coming Boat Pull — a ritual that involves at least six Cotuit Skiff owners  simultaneously flipping out and amplifying weather rumors into a pending disaster worthy of a Jerry Bruckheimer/Chad Oban film. Strike up the bad electric guitar solo as these six adults anxiously unrig their antique sailboats while bemused rubberneckers drive past in their SUVs and snap pictures.

It’s not that frantic. We’re pretty good at it. Conrad hauls his boats and his customers boats out of the water fully rigged and up the hill to his boat shop. Since he’s a boat builder he has a special trailer that makes skiff pulling a simple one-man operation. The rest of us — Dan, Jimmy, Brad, Tom, and me — play boat trailer roulette, pressing into service anything with wheels and a trailer hitch to get the job done. In a full-on hurricane boat pull during the summer season, dozens of people swing into action and we can move an entire fleet of 40 boats into the meadow atop Rope’s Hill in about three hours. Off season, as we are now after Labor Day, the remaining townie sailors have to play good Samaritan and pull the remaining fleet. Thankfully yesterday’s pull was minor as we’re only operating under a tropical storm watch and Hanna was pooping out in the Carolinas. Nevertheless, I had to pull my boats because of next week’s trip to Bangalore and the fact that two more storms — Ike and Josephine — are right behind Hanna.

Our last legit hurricane on the Cape was Category 1 (the weakest on the one-to-five scale) Bob in August of 1991. That is the one and only true hurricane to hit the Cape in my 50 years on the planet, but beginning in 1938 on through the early 50s, the Cape got pasted with some regularity, including some big damage to the Cotuit Skiff fleet. So, rather than risk a 60-year old nautical antique built by my grandfather in the hopes of getting a few more weekend sails in before Halloween, I pull.

So, here’s the drill. My son Fisher and I row out to the motorboat, tow the dinghy to the beach, motor back out to the skiff, untie and tow it ashore and do the same for the other boats. The first rule of boat pull is the first boats to get pulled are those belonging to people physically present and assisting. Boats being pulled for those absent — pity pulls — take low priority.

Fisher rides the skiff in and starts unrigging the sail while I anchor the motorboat. I fetch the ditty bag (sailor term for canvas bag of nautical tools) and start pulling out the mast wedges that hold the mast secure inside of the mast step. Forestay is unshackled. The halyards (ropes that raise and lower the sail) are unreeved. Fisher stands on deck, hugs the mast, lifts it out and we lower it down and into the cockpit of the boat along with the boom and the gaff. I get into the car attached to the trailer, back it down the ramp until the rear wheels touch the water, set the parking brake, jump out and pull out ten feet of winch rope. Fisher guides the hull onto the carpet covered bunks, gets the boat centered and I stick a rubber mallet with the winch line clove-hitched around the handle into the mast hole on the deck and start winding the boat carefully up onto the bunks. As soon as the boat is secure on the trailer, Fisher and I hop into the car and drive the boat out of the water, up the ramp and up Old Shore Road hill to Main Street, bang a left, go 50 feet and drive into my driveway.

Brother-in-law, brother, and college roommate/best man arrive in pickup truck. Hop out. Two guys on the bow. Two on the stern. Fisher on the saw horses. We lift on one-two-three, step over the trailer, put the gunwale or side of the skiff on the sawhorses, tip it up and over and then upside down, bottom up on the sawhorses. The horses are placed in the middle of the yard so when and if the trees come down they won’t land on the boat. The boat could, in theory, blow off of the horses, but the hull weighs 500 pounds and should be secure. Putting in a garage isn’t a smart move because a) the boat needs to be washed with freshwater first b) that takes too much time and c) the garages are too close to the treeline and could get smashed by a falling maple and really mess up the boat.

Then we jump back into the vehicles and drive back down the hill to do it a few more times on the other guys’ boats. Whole operation takes less than hour but can be made more complex when:

  1. The gang drinks beer and tells stories in between boats.
  2. Tools from my ditty bag are borrowed and dropped in the water
  3. The trailer tire goes flat and a can of a Flat-Fix gunk needs to be located
  4. The stem on the trailer tire rips off and the flat fixer is coated with white Flat-Fix gunk
  5. Another trailer is found
  6. More beer is drunk
  7. People who don’t know how to back up a trailer are allowed to back up the trailer
  8. Weekend Wally’s who don’t understand boat ramp etiquette slip in with their trailers and decide to give their boat a manicure on the ramp while the rest of us made loud suggestions that they move it elsewhere

Colleagues in North Carolina are reporting no big deal, their lights are still on, and Hanna is right to their east. We awoke to a good, unrelated rain storm, now everything is muggy and quiet, but the fun should begin around 7 pm. Tomorrow I should be able to relaunch the motorboat, and sun shine permitting, get in some beachtime before departing for the airport and my Bangalore flight at 6:30 pm.

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