Winter is the silent season. Beaches are deserted, marinas grow quiet and cold weather puts a freeze on normal human hub-bub. The Caribbean may be hopping this time of year but the Olympic Peninsula, where I live is not. Around here I see that a lot of boats stay in the water year-round. Back East, empty marina slips are matched by the crowded rows of naked hulls in the boatyards. They are interesting places to visit, cozy in their closeness, silent as a church.
A boat on land is an ungainly creature. Sailboats with deep keels look unsteady on spindly metal jack stands. One feels small standing in a forest of closely packed sailboats which have come ashore to roost for the winter. It’s the perfect time to work on the bits of boat that aren’t accessible the rest of the year. It can take time to become accustomed to standing under the curve of the bilges which are in perpetual shadow and the overhanging weight of a craft seems ominously heavy. To sailors the bottoms of boats are quite as interesting as the top sides. This is where wood, fiberglass, steel or whatever joins water. It is the divide between two distinctly different environments. The geometry of this joining combines art and science in a timeless effort to bring man into communion with forces beyond his direct control.
There is variety in this display. A thousand curves in a single hull, flat lines and sharp angles, bulges and humps. Here the water flows smoothly by and there it eddies and froths as turbulence takes hold. Some bottoms are meant to be solid, hammering at each wave, shouldering the water aside or slicing decisively through a chop with with a saber-like stem. Others are made to lift their skirts and dance to the rhythm of the tides. I never get tired of this sort of display. I can spend hours walking through crowded boatyards. They are certainly the best place for friendly conversation with fellow sailor folk. The only downside is that the assembling of so much nautical pulchritude results from bringing another sailing season to an end.
Preparing for haul-out can be a somber ritual. I have always delayed it as long as practical. It is never accomplished before the first of December. An upside to this way of doing things is that the last boats out are the first to go back in. This made it perfect for launching by my annual target date of April 15. I could celebrate having my taxes done by taking a shakedown cruise. On a boat Fall cleaning is as important as Spring cleaning. The process frequently unearthed an assortment of souvenir’s that held memories of pleasant days under sail or quiet evenings on the hook recharging ones psychic batteries. I liked to have everything in good repair so that the first sail after launching in the spring wouldn’t be delayed.
A hundred small details attended the day. They brought an air of ceremony to the task culminating in untying the vessel and leaving the slip for one last quick sail on the way to the travel lift. I would head down the river and raise sails and run an out and back course past the familiar daymarks. The trees wore the last brown remnants of the years leafy raiment. You could hear the wind rattle dry branches as it stirred the piles of russet castoffs at their feet. The air crisp and clean as it brushed across the water’s face had an affectionate bite, a last kiss of temporary farewell.
My goodbye wishes to the bay and the river were audible and private. My appreciation of the blessing of sail was never more heartfelt than when I left it behind for a season.