After a Haul Out in Camden
By Steven Lansky.
After a haul out in Camden, Maine, Sea Dragon gathered crew. I came by air, Amtrak, and Concord Bus lines from Cincinnati via Boston. This planned third voyage aboard for me provided an opportunity to meet four new crewmates. I had sailed with Eric Loss, the skipper, and his fiancée Shanley McEntee, first mate on the Caribbean in 2015, and from Guyana to Trinidad and Tobago last January. They came to Camden six weeks earlier after sailing on their yacht around the Maritimes. Joined by Thomas ‘Owen’ McMahon a skilled deck hand from Great Britain they made final adjustments to the Pangaea Explorations yacht. When I climbed off the bus I met ‘El’ Eleanor Lawson Merrill, an energetic young woman with blonde dreadlocks. She carried a duffel.
We piled our gear into a tiny green canvas-doored, fiberglass, electric car for the ride from the bus stop at a gas station on a narrow hilly road as night fell. Shanley got the vehicle up to 23 MPH on a swooping descent after we inched up a steep rise. As we drove through woods, cars edged by us. We took the bike lane. Soon we were in Camden, as El and Shanley chatted. We stopped on a bridge to see a blue hull in the harbor, Shanley and Eric’s boat, Fleur Australe. Then we parked and took our gear aboard Sea Dragon, up four steps. The quay floated as tides in Maine fluctuated ten feet every six or eight hours.
The rest of the crew was on board. Lauren Keenan, her husband, Pei Huang, and Tom introduced themselves. Pei and Eric met in college and had sailed together in the British Virgin Islands after they had graduated. Eric finished cooking dinner. El gave each of us a Cruising World hat. She was here to do a feature for the magazine. After dinner, Eric picked up the new issue and began scouring the articles, offering his instant critique. I explained to Eric that I had all this new Gill gear for the The St. Petersburg Yacht Club Habana Race, a race planned for February 2017. Jody Abrams has invited me to join him on his J-105. Eric, Shanley, and Tom then led several detailed briefings on safety, boat-handling, and our planned sailing schedule.
Sunday came early, with the full moon setting over the bay, as we had bagels, coffee, tea, eggs, and cereal. Our unifying breakfast item was Mango juice blend.
Sea Dragon departed Camden, Maine Sunday afternoon in a heavy SW wind with rolling seas. The sets were uneven, so the chop became unsettling to two of our crew very soon. We were about thirty miles out, dodging lobster pots, sailing steadily upwind with Yankee, staysail, and double-reefed main. I had just handed her over to El, sailing steadily over ten knots with what promised to be a tough night ahead of us. I lost my balance and fell when Sea Dragon bucked on a big wave as I sat on the edge of the cockpit. I landed on the low side of the cockpit, after doing a pirouette and a tumble. My back and elbow banged the edge of the seat (steel) and I was hurting pretty bad. We hove to while Shanley, the medical officer, and Eric checked me out. El and Tom kept her steady. We consulted a doctor by phone and Eric made the decision to return to Camden. We got in after midnight. When we arrived we went to the local ER. I had a chest and back X-ray. The results were negative. My elbow is fine, but my lower ribs on my back are bruised on the right side. The only treatment was breathing exercises and an analgesic. Pei had been chilled and dehydrated from seasickness. Lauren was a little dehydrated. Eric said this was his first time seasick on Sea Dragon. I was relieved to have a new situation.
Here we were, a crew coming together for the first time, some with a lot of experience, some with less. We were all prepared but still we were, as a team, put to a test. I had broken ribs four times in the past and was pretty certain that was what had happened here. The hardest part of recovery from rib injuries is climbing in and out of bed. Mobility is severely restricted, and the relatively constant pain can drain the positive attitude.
Because of weather and the crew’s capacity we lost our window to sail to Bermuda. Decisions were made in consultation with everyone on board. We sailed six wonderful days on a fall coastal cruise. As Tuesday brought us a steady breeze we hooked a lobster pot in fog off Booth Bay. Eric dashed below, climbed into a wetsuit and fins, slipped into the sea as Tom hove to. After pulling us loose, Eric came aboard, wrapped himself in a towel, and took hold of a winch handle, grinding to get warm. A few minutes later we were again sailing through fog. Our first day ended at Gloucester where we docked against a barge, then the second day along Cape Cod past Duxbury Beach with cirrus clouds and cool weather.
We kept the teakettle on the gimbaled, propane stove cooking as she heeled considerably. Hot beverages, layered clothing, snug foulies, and grinding winches kept us warm. Lauren and Pei enjoyed learning more about sailing; finding that the journey quenched their mutual thirst for adventure. Tom found comfortable places to sit, leaned up against the rail, and tucked on the stern. Still he was ready to trim a sail, heave a dock line, or bake a loaf of bread in our electric machine.
We made our way through the Cape Cod channel to Woods Hole arriving in a fresh breeze after a delightful reach. The next morning broke clear and sunny. The crew swam before breakfast. That afternoon on Buzzard Bay we trawled for plastics before another upwind sail. Arriving on Block Island in afternoon rain we found a pier in the New Harbor next to a fishing boat where a teen thriller was finishing three weeks of filming overnight. We woke to the cast and crew swimming and frolicking in the harbor on damp docks in morning rain.
El’s energy, team-building skills, which featured great cookies, boat-handling prowess, and lots of photographing kept us going. Her husband, Nate visited Sea Dragon in connection with a Block Island, EPA conference. We walked around the island as the summer season had ended with many businesses closed. The petting zoo brought a certain joy like an Emu in the rain.
After a night of Force 8 winds we couldn’t leave Block Island Harbor safely. Pei, Lauren and I took the ferry to Point Judith where I met a bus to Providence, transferred to the airport, and flew back to Cincinnati. Sea Dragon sailed to Newport the next day with El, Tom, Eric, and Shanley.