The Older We Get The More We Forget

by Dave Nance

When the Cal 40 came out in the 1960s, I thought that boat was the epitome of boat design. Several arrived in Houston and began to win almost every race. It didn't matter if it was a bay race around the buoys or an offshore race in the Gulf of Mexico, they usually held their time and won. At that time I was part of a crew on a Pearson Alberg 35. We were top class boat in most races but had to watch the Cals sail past us after the starts. I couldn't stand that so the owner of the Alberg introduced me to one of the Cal owners and I signed on for a Gulf race. I met the boat in Galveston, jumped on board and we headed for the start line. The owner/skipper stood at the tiller, chewing tobacco like a good Texan but spitting into the wind. A very un-skipper like mannerism. That was the good part. Things went downhill for the rest of the race. I got off the boat in Corpus Christi (we were somewhere in the last boats to finish) and I took a bus back to Houston. The lesson: know the skipper before agreeing to crew.

I forgot this lesson.

Also in the 60's, William Tripp designed the Hinckley 48. In my view it is one of the most beautiful boats designed for the old CCA rule. It is 48 feet LOA with a 32 foot waterline. Sixteen feet of overhang in still water! There is nothing but air under you when you stand at the helm. When you sit on the bow pulpit you look back at the bow wave! A skinny twelve foot beam. Primary winches larger than the owners wife. Six foot draft with a 1000 lb. bronze centerboard that, when down draws 13 feet. A flush deck so big you can play ball on the foredeck. A small doghouse of a cabin companionway to keep the deck clean. So much teak it depleted the rain forests of Burma. What a beautiful boat!

Some months ago a friend asked if Lois and I would look over this boat and tell him what we thought of it. I was familiar with the boat as I had raced against it a few times and I knew of the owner from the racing crowd so I was surprised when John said he was about to buy the boat. John had a Hunter 30 some time back, before he discovered flying. That gave him enough knowledge to be dangerous. His law firm gives him the money to be really dangerous. The boat had made several Atlantic crossings and is fitted with everything needed for true blue water sailing, abet much of it is old technology such as non self tailing winches and few cabin amenities. The original owner (it was a one owner boat), an engineer and former professor on naval science at Rice, maintained the boat beautifully, even to having the teak varnished twice a year. It passed a rigorous survey without a problem. Knowing John and his wife, and trying to be diplomatic, I said the boat is beautiful, a great sailing boat, and will be the most beautiful boat in the marina. I pointed out that it would take a good amount of maintenance because of her age, and there are only a few yards in the area that can haul her, and it is very narrow for her length and so lacks interior space, and so on. John bought her anyway.

She really is a beautiful boat!

We suggested that he sail the boat for a season and then decide what he wanted to add or change. Of course John had to add a new chart plotter right away. Remember, he was a private pilot. That starts the fun. The very latest Garmin plotter has everything you can think of in one instrument. Charts, GPS, speed, depth, weather maps, wind, radar, and on and on. The transponder/speed paddle/water temp combination thru hull fitting is three and a half inches deep, good enough for today's boat hulls. Remember the Hinckley was built before engineers and builders understood the strength of fiberglass so the hull near the center, he discovered, is five inches thick. After much discussion of alternatives, Garmin made an extra long transducer. Just a few boat units (dollars) more. "While the boat is on the hard, why not remove the redundant depth and speed sensors and glass up the holes" I said. Two weeks later the boat is back in the water. The yard bill is in the thousands.

Reality is setting in.

She really is a beautiful boat!

John asked if I would pilot the boat from Galveston to her new home in Seabrook.

She is a beautiful boat!

I forgot past lessons.

The Galveston-Houston ship channel is one of the busiest in the world. Over 6000 ships, tows, ferries and tugs transit this channel each year. It is always busy and dangerous. The waters on both sides of the channel are shoal. We would have to transit 35 miles of this and cross it twice. It is daunting to a novice but I grew up with this and know the route. I impressed on everyone to keep a sharp lookout as the ships sail at 10 to 15 knots and the tows at 5 to 9 knots and the channel is only 550 feet wide. Just enough for two ships to pass. Everyone else has to time a pass away from any ships or we may have to get the centerboard up in a hurry.

The forecast was for winds at 20 kn. easterly. The rain would hold off for another 24 hours. Perfect for a sail up the channel on a beam reach in protected water. What could be better? I outlined to the crew the route we would take on the trip; exit Galveston harbor and hug the East side of Pelican Island, cross the channel at Boliver Roads to the East side just off the ferry terminal, hug the East side of the channel to Red Fish Bar, cross the channel again north of Red Fish and sail in the bay to the Seabrook entrance channel. We would have deep water for the 13 foot centerboard all the way.

We left the hurricane proof concrete docks of the Galveston marina. I asked for one long blast of the horn as we approached the end of a blind turn exiting the marina. No one ever found the button to activate the electric air horn. As we passed the Coast Guard station John asked if we should check in with traffic control. I said that was for deep water ships and we would monitor their radio channel just in case visibility closed in. He called them anyway. They said we were not big enough to track. John looked somewhat deflated. She really is a beautiful small boat!

We entered Boliver Roads with two ferries, an oil rig supply boat, two ships and a four barge tow. John was engrossed with the plotter mounted at the helm. He didn't take the advice to mount the screen so that the navigator could use it and the helmsperson could watch where the boat was going. "John, you should hold to the West side until this ship behind us goes by" I said. John looked up. "Holy ---- where did he come from" he said as he reached for the radio mike. "Starlight to the big red ship, I'll turn and stay out of your way." "Ship to little sailboat, make your turn and hold your course, we are watching out for you." John looked miffed. I hoped John learned a lesson from this. He asked if I thought we could raise sail now. I suggested we stay with our plan and motor into the wind to the East side of the channel and get beyond the ferry terminal before we are constrained by the sails. He thought about this, sat back and continued to motor. This is going well, I thought.

We dodged a tow as they passed us mid channel. We finally cleared the ferries and I called for sails. We rolled out the main and genny, heeled 20 degrees, took off on a close reach and passed the tow. The crew of the tow waved and yelled "that's a beautiful boat." We all beamed and waved.

Matt called up from below, "dad, is there supposed to be water on the floor of the forward head?" John replied "that's OK son, I got water on the floor when I put the paddle wheel in." Reply, "but dad its coming from the sink." John goes below. Next frantic voice -- "Dave, can you come down here and check this? I closed this funny looking valve under the sink but it keeps overflowing." I said close the seacock and see if it stops. It did. We sailed on, heeled now at 30 degrees with the rail under. The boat is solid as a rock and really trucking.

She is a beautiful boat!

John continues to play with the plotter. I stay close by and occasionally reach over and push the helm to regain the course. Ships pass through our weaving wake. John has grown tired of calling ships on the radio. We turn at Red Fish Bar and accelerate on a broad reach for the Seabrook channel. Being a dreary cool day, there is little pleasure boat traffic and I tell of the good old days when we would race up the Seabrook channel. No one is interested in sailing a 40,000 pound boat with 13 foot draft through the narrow channel and under the bridge. We start the engine and wind in the sails. I flip the switch and the electric drive winds up the centerboard. The fun is over.

The boat is now securely tied in her new slip and we relax before we begin to tidy up. "What is that funny motor noise" I ask? No one knows. After all, it's a new boat to everyone. Matt hands up beers for the crew and said "dad, what is the water in the aft head from?" Water is coming out of the shower drain like a fountain. "Hinckley thinks of everything. You have your own water feature in the owners cabin" I say. No one understands my humor. We lift the engine hatch and discover water about to cover the engine. The pump is running but jammed. That is the strange noise. We begin to pump with the huge Edson hand pump and in about 30 minutes the bilge is dry. I find a giser in the bottom of the bilge and we cut a plug to stop the flow. That geyser stops, only to be replaced with an even bigger geyser in the shower drain. I suggest we close all seacocks but we can't find a drawing for their location. I then suggest we just lower the centerboard till it touches bottom, then the boat won't sink any lower. Nobody understands my humor.

John calls the previous owner. He is at a loss as to the cause but dispatches two mechanics that know the boat. We pump a few strokes every five minutes. The mechanics get the electric pump working and then sit back and look puzzled. Not a good sign while on double time pay. They finally say "lets close all the seacocks and see what happens." You see, when you pay for something it carries much more credibility. Besides that, they know where the seacocks are hidden. The water slows down, then stops.

Now what does four hours times two mechanics times double time for Sunday evening buy? Remember the funny valve under the sink? It was the diverter valve to the 50 gal. gray water tank. It was only partly closed and water could flow through all three outlets. And the seacock under the sink? It was partly open (not closed all the way). The geyser I plugged? It was the vent on the gray water tank. We were cycling water into the boat by way of the gray water system.

Reality has firmly set in.

She really is a beautiful boat.

I forget easily.