Setting Up
July 22, 2018

It does seem simple. You keep a small sailboat on the river bank. When the conditions are right, it takes just a moment to slide it into the water and sail away. My boat is small. It is just 12 feet long. The strength of one person is enough to shove it around. It is made of durable, no maintenance plastic. There's no wood to be scraped and varnished each year. It is a recipe for simple, easy sailing adventures. Or so it seems.

The reality is a little different. My sailboat must weather the winter on that river bank. It has to be hauled up onto its trailer and wrapped in tarpaulins to protect it. This past winter had massive flooding that deposited a fertile layer of mud over the river bank where my boat hibernated. That sort of deposit may be good news for the ancient farmers on the banks of the Nile. But it gave me one extra layer of grief when it is time to wake my sailboat from its winter slumbers.

When that time comes, there's a job to be done. The boat has to be unwrapped and hauled off its trailer. Then all the dirt of winter has to be washed away and all the component parts checked. Have the bolts on some fixture come loose? What sort of insects have set up a cosy nest in the boat.

It is quite a chore to get set up for sailing. I'd been delaying it. The river currents had been high, the temperatures high and the winds unfavorable. It was not yet time for sailing. Or so I kept telling myself. I could postpone the sweaty job.

Yesterday, I noticed that the river currents on the Ohio River at the Newport Marina downstream of the point had dropped to an entirely manageable 10,000 cubic feet per second. The winds were blowing at a healthy 10 mph from various southerly directions. Then, when I was out exercising on the trails along the Allegheny, I ran into Rob and Olga Noll of our impromptu downtown sailors' club. They were sailing in perfect conditions on the Allegheny. It was time!

I bundled a bucket, brush and other supplies into the car and headed off to the marina to begin the job. There I found my boat on its trailer pushed back into the weeds and foliage. The tires were low in air and sitting in wells of silt. So it was only with the help of a nearby canoer that I could haul the trailer out into the open where the real work could begin.

This time, I had four-legged company: Atlas, our son's boisterous German Shepherd. We dog-sit him on most weekends, into Monday. That was another factor that delayed my forays into the rivers. He is a big energetic dog and needs to get out. This was a perfect opportunity for such an outing. I tethered him to a tree with a long rope and he had the run of the bank. It was, needless to say, very exciting for him. There's a lot on a river bank that we humans cannot see, but an acute-nosed dog can smell.

Soon enough, I had the boat uncovered, the tarpaulin cleaned up and the ropes coiled and stowed. The hull needed rather little work. It took only a few buckets of water and a little scrubbing to remove loose dirt. All the fittings were in good shape.

I dragged the cleaned and inspected hull over to the river's edge. There is a rocky ledge there. The boat must slide over it to be launched. To protect the hull I scavenged driftwood that last winter's flood had provided and set it up in just the right places.

Then there was the mast with the sail wrapped around it. It was tempting to leave it alone until a sailing day. But one year when I'd done that, I had unfurled the sail mid river and found that an ant colony had take up residence in the furled sail. So I unrolled the sail. Sure enough, another ant colony had made my sail its home, right at the top if the mast. Unwelcome squatters! The sail is big and unfurling it on the muddy bank is messy. Somehow I managed. After some squirts of the hose and water dousings from a bucket, the squatters were gone.

With that, the dirtiest work was done. A tarpaulin was tied over the hull and a protective sleeve pulled over the sail on the mast. It was warm--mid 70sF--so I was quite wet with sweat and quite tired from doing what seemed like light work, but wasn't. It was worth it. Everything was ready for the day when the winds and currents are favorable and I can get away to sail.

John D. Norton


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