In The Beginning…..

In The Beginning.....

Skipjack Cove Marina, on the Sassfras River, Maryland, (shown in the adjacent picture) was the site for our very first foray into the sailing world. When we were first married, we decided to devote our life to an activity that could be enjoyed by ourselves and our hoped-for family. Jim had gotten his pilot’s license, encouraged by several family members who enjoyed flying. When we first met, Jim invited me to go for a ride in a small plane. He was very competent, but I have a great fear of heights and remained terribly uncomfortable throughout that trip. Besides, even though Jim had an uncle who owned a small airport, flying was expensive. It was not an activity suited to newly-weds with a limited budget. We both loved being near the water, having grown up on opposite sides of the Delaware River and Bay, and had each spent many youthful hours enjoying that nautical environment. Therefore, we decided that boating would provide fun and educational opportunities. With a small amount of financial outlay, we proudly purchased our first boat immediately after returning home from a two-week honeymoon. That first boat we purchased was a 14-foot “Papoose” fiberglass canoe, and our initial trip was down the Delaware River from Pennsville, New Jersey, headed to Ft. Mott. We camped that night in a marsh along the Jersey side of the river, and were eaten alive by mosquitoes. Jim, as it turned out, is very allergic to mosquito bites, and is also very attractive to those same blood-sucking insects. By morning, his face was so swollen that I could hardly recognize him, and his fingers were so big that he couldn’t separate them. We somehow managed to finish the trip to Ft. Mott, but didn’t wish to repeat the experience. This, as must be stated, was before the time when good mosquito repellants were being marketed. While we had thoroughly enjoyed the paddling life, brief as it was, Jim set his eyes on something more challenging – sailing. After several years, during which time we still went paddling on strictly day trips, we finally located a small sailboat which we could afford. We bought an old (ancient) 16-foot, wooden Comet-class sloop. Living on the Delmarva Peninsula gave us many options for getting the keel wet, and we decided on the Sassfrass River for our maiden voyage in that little boat. I always called that Comet “Sail and Bail,” since she leaked incessantly around the centerboard trunk. So, while Jim concentrated on learning to sail, I spent my time aboard that little boat continuously operating the bail bucket, scooping and throwing water overboard. Our first-ever sail was on the Sassfras River. We excitedly trailered that little Comet to a ramp near Skipjack Cove Marina, set up the mast and attached the rigging and prepared to back the trailer into the river. Just at that point, as a previously unannouced thunder storm blew up, a car with Pennsylvania tags drove down the ramp, getting to the water ahead of us. Seemingly oblivious to thunder and lightning, six men jumped out of that car, grabbed a tiny plastic boat from the cartop, and put it in the water. They then loaded it with lots of fishing gear, a heavy cooler and several cartons of beer. After attaching a small outboard engine, all six men got in that child-like “craft” and took off into the river. The gunnels of their “boat” were only just visible above the surface of the water. Meanwhile, the storm was getting into full voice, and lightning was striking trees close to the water on the other side of the narrow river. Losing sight of those six men in the increasingly violent storm, we just shook our heads at their stupidity. After the storm finally subsided, we finally got ready to launch our own boat, wondering all the while what had happened to those six men in their little plastic bathtub. Jim put our car in gear and began to back the boat-laden trailer down the ramp, only to quickly discover that an overhanging electric line was dangerously low, and wouldn’t allow passage of the upright mast. After some cogitation, Jim maneuvered two wheels of the trailer into a roadside ditch in order to get under that line with our mast still aloft. Finally, success was ours. The trailer was safely immersed, the boat was afloat, and we were ready to go sailing. That first sail was a lesson in safe movement and balancing in a small craft, sheet trimming, etc., and, oh, yes, bailing! That day brought me another new lesson – learning to interpret sailing jargon, which seemed like a totally foreign language. Jim assimilates information quickly from the written word, and was able to put his initial, book-based sailing instructions into immediate practise. I, on the other hand, learn much more easily from a hands-on, up-close-and-personal perspective. Hearing my beloved spouse giving me instructions at times to tack, jibe, luff, haul, and sheet-in, I was in a constant state of bewilderment. He had learned those new terms, their meanings, and when and how to use them, from a sailing book. When given with his infectious grin, though, and admonitions to me to “do it like this,” we managed to safely make it through the day without mishap. Despite our opposite means of coming to grips with the new experience, we both loved that initial sail, and decided that this was to be the life for us. We never did learn the fate of those Pennsylvania men on that day. Their car was still on the launch ramp when we placed our Comet back on the trailer, de-rigged her, and left for home. It was the beginning of a totally new life for us, one which would find us travelling thousands of far-flung watery by-ways. We would have storms to weather at sea, many foreign ports to explore, and an extensive salt-encrusted, never-ending education to assimilate. That day on the Sassfras River was the beginning of something good. To see a picture of a Comet which looks just like ours did, down to the color, check out an earlier post: “Comet Sailboat” /p>


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