Sailing Again! And It’s About Time

Time is a commodity aboard The Roger Henry as the Simons head back to sea. "The Roger Henry Files" for our April 29, 2010, CW Reckonings

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Alvah and Diana Simon enjoy the last of their stay on the beautiful Olympic Peninsula before setting sail for New Zealand. (Hurricane Ridge- Olympic National Park) Alvah Simon

An old business adage would have us believe that “time is money”. No, it’s not. Time is time, and that’s a far more precious thing. When I run out of time, I can’t ask a friend to “spot me ten” or drop in to see my friendly loan officer at the Fist Ethereal Bank of Eternity.

This week a time installment payment of sorts came due. Our six-month winter moorage in the Port of Poulsbo expired. Already! How could that be? Comparing the work list to the calendar, I wish I’d not spent my time here like a drunken sailor.

Still, the winter in Poulsbo worked out exactly as we’d hoped. It was affordable and convenient, quiet and friendly. On Wednesday night we had a potluck dinner before us winter live-aboards scattered. Les is heading to Mexico. Alaska Mark has no specific destination, as long as it’s warm. Captain Jan will work on her steel sloop Tortue until June and then see which way the winds are blowing. Al and Becca are heading up to explore British Columbia. Sandy and Ray’s joy is working on Joy. And Jonathan on Judy II, well, he goes wherever his 17-year old rat terrier, Buster (AKA “The Boss”) tells him to go.


Then on Sunday morning, with no more fanfare than a few handshakes, Diana and I slipped the lines from the docks of our little winter haven. Those that I thought of as our new friends officially became old friends the moment we sailed out of sight. It’s the nature of the sailor, this sort of social promiscuity- Love

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We had an appointment to haul the Roger Henry in the Port of Townsend Boatyard a couple days hence. We didn’t want to miss that time-slot because rumors had them booked up until late June or early July. By then I hope to be sipping Singapore Slings at Aggie Grey’s Hotel in Apia, Samoa.


Our 36-foot cutter had to make the quick transition from a dockside apartment to a proper seagoing vessel. The axiom “a place for everything and everything in its place” becomes more relevant in a bucking beam sea. No more fruit bowl centerpieces for Diana or bedside book stacks for me.

The finite nature of our resources became immediately apparent. No longer could we light up like a Christmas tree. We would now have only as much electricity as the ship’s systems could produce. The freshwater that had flowed in miraculous amounts from the end of the dock hose would now have to trickle through our foot pumps. With only four weeks of propane per tank we can no longer mindlessly light the stove and then fill the teakettle. Fill the kettle then light the stove. Yes, it is only a few seconds of savings, but added up over many times a day, seven days a week, it may mean hot meals throughout a long passage.

Regarding our resident Internet junkie (I won’t mention any names, but here’s a clue- I’ve been married to her for 27 years), as the wireless service faded in our wake I thought I could hear the monkey on her back begin to snarl.


I had to make a few transitions myself. No more running up to the pub to catch the big game. And alas, beer is bulky and the boat is small. More importantly, for as slowly as the process of sailing seems to unfold, it’s an exacting discipline that requires a clear head and unwavering focus.

After all these years onboard, going back to sea should be like riding a bike, but I feel rusty and out of tune with my vessel. The depth sounder kept showing no reading, and in spite of having dealt with this little quirk many times before I could not for the life of me remember how to rectify it. How had I rigged those running backstays – inboard or outboard of the yankee sheets?

I reset the ship’s clock. It’s a habit from my celestial navigation days when accuracy to the second meant accuracy to the mile. Time is important, but so is timing. First, there are the minute-by-minute considerations like keeping enough water under the keel and a clear passage ahead. Next comes the hourly considerations; I did not relish the thought of trying to get through the narrow Agate Pass on the full flood tide. Have these tide tables been corrected for Daylight Savings Time, because that hour matters.


Then there are the monthly considerations of the lunar kind. The official clearance for the Port Townsend Canal Bridge is 58 feet, measured at mean high water. But we are having extreme Spring Tides this week that nibble away at that already heart-stopping slim clearance.

Then there are seasonal timing considerations. We dare not head offshore too soon, for the Spring gales up here will strip paint. Then again, we have to depart from Hawaii for the doldrums before the hurricane season heats up.

There is UCT (Universal Coordinated Time) but, because I do not feel that the many types of time can ever be properly coordinated, I prefer to use the old fashioned and parochial GMT. There is also BMT (Bureaucratic Mean Time) and they can be plenty mean if Diana, a native New Zealander, overstays her visa.

Apparently this time thing is part of a continuum-tug at one end and you feel the effects at the other. But, for sailors especially, that cord feels elastic. That is, the personal experience of the passage of time is affected by the mode of motion, for time exists only in conjunction with distance and velocity. From Poulsbo we took two days to reach Port Townsend, a distance we have driven in less than an hour. On the first day we made the distant shores of Port Ludlow, a whopping twenty-six miles away.

The next morning we set sail north up the Puget Sound. We decided to delay passing under the Canal Bridge until the tide had fallen a bit, but this resulted in us motoring at just short of a standstill against the ebb gushing out of the narrow entrance to Kilusut Harbor. However, this slow pace gave us time (there it is again) to enjoy the wonderful wildlife on the sand spit adjacent to the winding entrance. It was littered with a hundred splotchy seals, immature bald eagles having bad hair days, lonely geese still calling for mates, and playful river otters.

We anchored just outside of Mystery Bay, apparently no longer a mystery, as it was full. We took a nap, read our books, and still had time to enjoy a quiet sundown in the cockpit. In the morning, we hurried over to Port Townsend at 5 knots.

As we approached the travel-lift dock, Diana asked me what time it was, for our scheduled haul-out was for 2:30 p.m. I looked at my watch, or more precisely at the wrist my watch had been on unfailingly for the last six months of land life. I had somehow forgotten to put it on when we left the dock in Poulsbo. I really should at least keep it close at hand for we are sailing again, and it’s about time.