Saturday, September 11, 2010

Getting excited

A couple of seasoned cruisers, as people who live and travel on their sailboats are known, got towed into the marina a couple of days ago due to transmission failure. (Most sailboats have engines and transmissions, because it's a good backup in case the wind turns against you or just flat out dies. Also, it's easier to get in and out of docks, marinas, and harbors on low engine power than on sailpower.) Evan got to chatting with them a bit on their boat, and I eventually joined them. We told them we were hoping to leave the next morning for Cape May, NJ. When they asked me if I was excited, I couldn't lie. I paused and said "Not really."

What I meant, and explained, was that it is hard to maintain a constant level of anticipation and excitement about departure plans that are tentative to begin with and which keep getting pushed back by weather or mechanical problems. Not that I am down on our plans or situation. In fact, I am pretty content, enjoying the peaceful remoteness of boat-life and the occasional dip back into the roiling streams of activity in the city a short PATH or ferry ride away. But contentedness is very different from excitement. I am saving genuine excitement for when we are pushing off from dock, casting all lines off, and have passed the Statue of Liberty.

Which was yesterday, until we turned on the engine, put her into forward and started walking the lines off--and she wouldn't go forward. Instead of sailing through a perfect weather window to the southern tip of New Jersey, we spent the entire day with and without boatyard people, hovered over the transmission, which slips every time we put her into forward and rev her up. I learned how to change transmission fluid, which was fun. For a few hours, it seemed like we still had a chance at fixing it and getting out before the weather window closed, but things turned out otherwise. A new transmission is in the works, which has us staying in Jersey City for up to another week.

And that isn't so bad at all. If anything, these kinds of delays and unexpected developments are so commonplace with all cruisers that it isn't a big deal. But is that a good thing? Evan's friend was over at the boat yesterday when we discovered the transmission problem. When he saw our wild-haired, weather-beaten neighbors, he joked, "You don't want to turn into them. They've just let go, haven't they?" (To be fair, our neighbor was fixing something in his bilge, which is the whale's belly of a boat, where all nasty things dwell. Nobody looks good--nor should--when working on the bilge.)

Being able to go with the flow, having fluid plans, and not get bent out of shape about things that are out of your control is a positive thing. But the New Yorker in me is giving some resistance too, making me wonder whether there are also times when that attitude can slip into complacency, and things become "out of your control" by sheer virtue of your not exercising control when and where you can?

For example, we lost a few hours of our weather window while still indecisive about the transmission because the boat mechanic was MIA. The New Yorker in me wanted to go up to the marine services office and say, "Track this guy down! We can't make a decision about the transmission until he looks at it again, and we want to make the weather window!" The newbie sailor in me didn't do this, though, because every sailor and the few sailing books I've read all caution against that very "We've gotta make this weather window!" attitude. It was hard; at first, I placated myself by glaring up and down the dock, hand shielding my eyes in classic Lookout pose. Then I kept thinking that the transmission worked fine in lower revs, so why couldn't we just go? We'd be sailing most of the time anyway! Where was the boat mechanic to say that this would be an ok plan? Finally, I asked Evan why we couldn't just go with low revs. He pointed out that we might need high revs if we were going against a heavy current or drifting close to shallows or just generally needed to deal with some situation quickly.

Oh. Yup, we needed a new transmission then. That meant the weather window was no longer a viable consideration. And since the mechanic didn't have a new transmission lying around anyway, his MIA status had simply become irrelevant too. So ultimately, I had a better time squashing some tomatoes in hot oil than continuing the futile exercise of glaring the boatyard mechanic to our boat. The day's wave of excitement / frustration / desperation broke while we ate a yummy dinner, watched Ponyo, and, relaxing back into the small pleasures of living aboard, let go of our well-laid plans...this time.
The culprit transmission and coupler
Looking out of the companionway

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