—March 2, 2016
It is an especially cold mid-winter day. The type day that gave reason to mammalian hibernation, as just trying keep warm in the cold of the open air would rapidly deplete an animal’s fat reserves. So cold that birds are reluctant to fly and the briny water of the harbour has iced over, encasing docks and mooring balls in a steely grip.
Any thoughts of boating quickly turn to thoughts of hypothermia and speculation as to how many minutes—or would that be seconds?—one might survive from an accidental spill overboard into the open waters. Thoughts of boating also quickly bring forth the image of the lonely boatyard, some 300 boats enshrouded in tarps and plastic, that are further covered with a thin layer of crusty snow. The place so still that it seems if the boats have been sitting there for years, like the headstones of a centuries-old cemetery.
But no, life will return to the boatyard, and in just two long months the first of them will be launched and the boating season begin again with the first whisperings of spring.
This idea of a “boating season” is something folks in the deep south and out on the southwest coast don’t have to contend with, as their boating season is year round. And yes, we boaters up here in the cold northern climates are envious. We miss our boats during the long winter season and sometimes wish we lived in a place where it’s possible to jump on one’s boat and take a toot on a warm (what’s that?) February day.
We relish our short season, and with the annual changing of the seasons get to experience an elation that would be entirely foreign to you deep south and southwest coast boaters. It’s an elation equivalent to that experienced by children on Christmas morning—boundless joy over the promise of all the foreseen and unforeseen boating of the season yet to come.
It happens every year in mid to late April, after I get the call that my boat has been launched, rigged, and is ready to go. As soon as work permits, I load my truck with sails, sheets and the minimum gear needed for safety and comfort, and head to the boatyard. It is always a solo venture, as I like to savour the season’s first outing—that trip from the marina to my dock—alone, just me and my boat.
I am usually just about shaking with excitement by the time I climb onboard. And though the boat always seems quite the mess, what with mold in the cabin and the deck dirty with grit from the rigger’s shoes, discarded tape and broken clevis pins, it doesn’t bother me as my annual cleaning later in the week is just part of the overall spring ritual. I check the rigging and lines and inspect the boat from bow to stern, mentally checking off all the things that will need to be done to prepare for the season’s successful voyaging. The engine and its fluids are checked, and then the starter pushed, which will bring a smile to my face upon hearing the familiar sputter of the Yanmar diesel. The engine tested and ready for action, the sails will be hanked on next, a job much easier with two, but one I do happily alone, just me and my boat.
When all seems ready and I can cast off and head for my harbour, I crack open a beer and pause to enjoy the boat sitting quietly on the mooring. I look around at the few other boats that have been launched, all in various stages of readiness. I try to just relax and enjoy the beer, but the season has begun and I need to feel the boat move. So I cast off and put her into gear and head out of the harbor. If there is a favorable breeze I will unfurl the jib once I’m in open waters, and sail for my harbor, but if not, no bother as I am content to motor with the knowledge that there will be many months of sailing ahead.
It is the best day of the year, and the elation I feel while heading for my harbour—just me and my boat—makes the change of seasons and months-long absence of boating worth it.
—Originally published in February by slidemoor.com.