WE NEVER MEANT TO GO TO SEA – CHAPTER ONE


In my early exploration of the ins and outs of copyright law, I found that book, film, titles are not protected.    So  with no fear of lawsuit, I use the name of one of my favourite childhood books by Arthur Ransome.

John McKinney and I first met up in one of the two storey wooden barracks of Company I, 47th Regiment, lst Army, a basic training unit at Fort Dix, New Jersey. The details of our sixteen weeks experience in 1952 may be covered in another piece. This just to support my long-held belief that required national service (not necessarily in the military) can provide exposure to a remarkable array of folks from all corners of society, to the general benefit of that society. I shared foxholes and KP duties with boys from the hills of Kentucky, from plush backgrounds – like John – and from all over the eastern states. College graduates, plus some who swore they never wore shoes before being drafted (OK, hard to believe, but you did not join your shelter-half with theirs in the New Jersey countryside) and others of varied origins. I still ponder the mystery recruit who parked his MG sports car behind the barracks, was given the red hat of the training cadre and whose name, I swear was Schine, identified by some as the son of a movie theatre chain magnate. Yes I’ve checked dates and can’t connect him with – well, you may know who if you’re really old like me.

Anyway, after Fort Dix I kept contact with some of my pals despite our dispersal across the military landscape. After serving my two years overseas and taking advantage of the very generous GI Bill of that time, I found myself looking for a summer job at the end of my freshman year at Cornell University. John had taken over the running of his father’s small manufacturing plant in Connecticut and offered me a slot, at a not too generous salary as I recall, but enough to help my budget.
John’s family owned a summer home on Cape Cod. And one day he announced that he had bought a small cabin cruiser and asked me to help him sail the vessel from its mooring at Bristol, Rhode Island. Now I always considered myself a seafaring chap. This despite the fact that my most daring maritime experience was in rowboats hired on the strands of the River Clyde estuary in Scotland. But I loved ships and the sea, growing up as I did I did in a great port city. Throughout my childhood, I always admitted, when interrogated by aunts and uncles, that I wanted to be a sea captain. (It wasn’t until years later that I discovered my maternal great grandfather commanded sailing vessels out of his native Limekilns in Fife.) So I immediately jumped at the chance to get real sea time on my log.

Thus one August afternoon, we arrived in Bristol, an attractive community on Naragansett Bay. John completed whatever papers were needed and took ownership of the craft. After buying supplies of food, we set out in a small dinghy to board her. She was about thirty feet long, had a small cabin with two bunks and a tiny galley. The compass I noticed was set deep in a wooden binnacle (a maritime term I knew from the scores of books I had read about the adventures of Sea Scouts, and of course the young heroes and heroines of the Ransome volumes). I also noted that the helmsman was forced to sit on a round hard wooden seat only about eight or so inches wide while peering down into the binnacle. I mention these details now only because they become important later in this yarn.

After a surprisingly comfortable night’s sleep, we prepared a very hearty breakfast of oranges and several rashers of bacon and three or four fried eggs. We wanted to be stoked up and ready for the voyage. Hmmmm?

John then showed me the relevant charts and the pilot book with its updates. I had heard him discuss with the former owner the best route to the Herring River on the Cape where he intended mooring his boat. It sounded as though there was some mild disagreement but the details were lost on me.

I love maps Always have. But, charts? Think of a map of your country with all its hills and valleys and rivers and towns. Then imagine it covered by water. A chart will show you the changing depth of the water rather than the height of hills and places where drowned hilltops/reefs pose threats to ships. . Close to the coast, signposts are displayed – lighthouses, buoys with numbers, bells and lights. And of course, as you sail, the landscape itself – buildings, hills, cliffs – tells you where you are if you keep them in sight. A pilot book is a written description of the coast and its waters. Both charts and pilot books are amended frequently to reflect changes in conditions. Mariners must keep up to date or face unexpected hazards.

John traced our route on the charts. We were catching the turn of the tide to give us a ride on the outgoing flow. Leaving Bristol, southerly and around the Mount Hope peninsula, under its towering bridge and easterly to the Sakonnnet River is our first leg.. There our course turns south with the tide for Rhode Island Sound. Thus we avoid the congested, if pretty, waters around Newport. Once we clear Sakonnet Point and enter Rhode Island Sound, John continued tracing the proposed line of our voyage, we sail easterly between the Elizabeth Islands and Martha’s Vineyard, past Woods Hole and Hyannis and finally to our vessel’s new home port of Herring River. We should reach there by 5 p.m., about a ninety (statute) mile trip he reckoned.

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