Earl Launches a Late-Summer Sailing Vacation

Sailors scramble to protect their floating real estate when a hurricane sets its sights on southeastern New England. Charter Briefing from our September 16, 2010, CW Reckonings

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Wooden boats get acquainted with each other behind the fuel dock at the Wickford Shipyard, in Wickford, Rhode Island.Elaine Lembo

Cheek to jowl, half a dozen or so wooden sailboats-one or two of them Bristol beauties; the others, less ravishing stepsisters-were lashed in an elaborate web of lines behind the fuel dock.

Their skippers had removed sails from spars or tacked them down on deck. Cockpit cushions were stowed below. I sized up the situation at the Wickford Shipyard in coastal Rhode Island on September 2, 2010, and mused that Hurricane Earl was no way to start my vacation.

Despite our northerly circumstances, the late-summer air was as stifling and the sun as boiling hot as any day I'd experienced when I was charter crew in the British Virgin Islands, and it brought back a storm memory or two from my years in the world's bareboat chartering capital as well as from my current beat at CW taking trips and then writing about them.

The upside of off-season bareboat charters set against swaying palms and white-sand beaches, or in nearly any destination in the world, is indisputable. The cost savings, the smaller crowds, the greater time base crew have to devote to clients all add up to a good deal.

The downside? Well, there is none, really, because the chance of a storm interrupting a charter is slight, in the grand scheme of things. Nonetheless, sailing vacation companies like the Moorings, Sunsail, and others have refund policies in place should Mother Nature have a different view of heavy weather. She has wielded her authority about three times over the last few decades during my Caribbean trips, and on each occasion, I recall a seamless handling of people and boats by various base staffs.

But this vacation was different-the hulls of wood, not fiberglass, belonged to longtime friends and neighbors; we were aboard our own boat; and we were bobbing in home waters. As reports filed in on Earl's projected track, my partner, Capt. Rick Martell, and I sat in the cockpit of Land's End, our 1935 Crocker ketch, all ears. Every visitor had a storm story to tell; Rick and I had a few of our own, too. Soon enough, cold beverages emerged from the galley and the chat grew livelier.

After awhile, I started feeling a bit jealous of one of our friends, Chris Bowman. In the last few months, we'd gotten to know the affable and energetic designer and builder, who'd shipped his latest masterpiece, Taru, a gaff-rigged 40-footer that fits in a shipping container, to New England.

We'd also been treated to a sunset sail aboard Taru, which is hull No. 1 of the Universal 40 class Chris has developed with hopes to market worldwide. The fast, fun composite boat with teak decks in a few hours can go from container to race course (or weekend overnighter) and back again.

"You've got people who want to get out of New England in winter, so you can send it to Tortola and race," he told us. "In hurricane season you can pack it back up and send it here."

Or … some safer place, like the mountains, I teased? At any rate, it's all history now. Earl fizzled out, and Chris shipped his boat back home to Australia. For more about the Universal 40 and his company, Malabar Boatworks, log on to the website (www.malabarboatworks.com).

As for the crew of Land's End, lo and behold, the captain realized he needed to renew his merchant mariner credentials, so off to the Coast Guard regional center in Boston we went (www.uscg.mil/nmc/renewing.asp). That gave us plenty of time to explore the Italian restaurants in the city's North End (www.northendboston.com), stay overnight at the Mariners House (www.marinershouse.org) and stroll the Freedom Trail (www.thefreedomtrail.org), where we brushed up on U.S. revolutionary war history.

And best of all, later in the week, we still managed to squeeze in a sail aboard our beloved cutter ketch in the waters of Narragansett Bay. Now that's a vacation-sailing and then some!