Sunday, February 17, 2008

My "First Ride"

My "First Ride" was a 1975 Chevy Caprice Classic affectionately called the “Metallic Dinosaur”. Twenty plus feet of American steel powered by an ample V8 which would torque the whole car as you revved the engine. In its heyday I’m sure it was a fine luxurious vehicle. When I got a hold of it, well it had big rust outs, the ceiling fabric massaged your scalp and it was questionable whether or not there was any silver paint on it or it was just the bare metal? It was however a ride and it never let me down even that time on a surf trip to Cape Hatteras when we lost the muffler just before getting on the Cape May ferry and roared through the mideastern seaboard scaring the wildlife and hoping we wouldn’t get arrested for noise pollution!

My "Second, First Ride" was a girl named Heather, but let's skip past that.

Well my ‘Third, First Ride’ is slightly more glamorous. A 2007 Thirty meter, 48 ton Benetti Tradition. No rust outs, twin Catapillar diesel engines, sparkling paint, fresh teak wood trimming and it uses only slightly more fuel than the ‘Metallic Dinosaur’. Two weeks ago at a surprise birthday party for Neil he sat down next to me and I immediately got the sense that something of gravity was coming. I didn’t feel that anxiety which usually precedes bad news, but that equanimity which tells me to just wait for it. I try to pay attention to these intuitions and follow them, but there is always that struggle with doubt so when he said “What if we got a really good 1st Mate?”, I had to stop for a second and think to myself “Is he firing me??” No he was promoting me to Captain!!

Although Glenn and myself had been thinking that in the boat’s current situation it probably would be the best thing and that eventually Neil might come around to seeing it, it wasn’t something I was really pushing for. In fact, I was just looking forward to getting a captain on board to take the weight off me and allow me to concentrate on the job I was actually hired to do.

But would I accept the position? Hell yes! It’s a daunting position, but since I’ve essentially been doing it for the last three months I might as well get the credit and official position. And the first ride is always the most difficult to secure. After the first, you’re in the club. You’ve reached the apex and can stroll along the ‘captain’s plateau’ knowing your career is well on its way. As long as you don’t royally screw up.

So yesterday it became official as the insurance company accepted me on to the policy. That wasn’t a sure thing as insurance companies seem to enjoy snuffing out would be applicants, especially ones applying for their first ride. Being an American doesn’t help either. Some foreign companies flat out won’t accept U.S. captains. Luckily our insurance company is pretty liberal and just added a little ‘screw the American’ premium which Neil said he was happy to pay. So I have my ‘First Ride’!!

Last week we moved the boat from Nice to Fontvielle, Monaco. We went to the Bay of Beauleau and did some maneuvers to get a feel for the boat and then went into port Fontvielle. I’m still waiting for the experience of the “Med style” docking where you back into your spot by cramming the boat in between two other boats with barely enough space to fit your fenders. This first berthing of the boat was a little more relaxed. We are on the inner sea wall and they space the boats out because of the swell surge we receive here. Since there are significant surges at this berth they require us to drop both anchors in addition to using the preset bow mooring lines. That was a good exercise especially since we had to do it twice.

I maneuvered the boat into position with the bow a few feet from the opposite quai to drop the Starboard anchor and we set it. Then we maneuvered to drop the Port anchor, but it wouldn’t drop. As Glenn frantically and hopelessly tried to jar the anchor loose I patiently held the boat in position. Finally we had no choice, but to add ‘windlass repair’ to our ‘to do’ list and lower the anchor link by link using the windlass’s motor. With both anchors down we backed towards the quai and secured the stern lines and then the bow mooring lines. It was then that we noticed that the anchor lines were crossed. The delay in dropping the port anchor allowed the starboard chain to drift under the port chain and so we would have to untangle the chains and reset the anchor. But that would have to wait until the dock guy came back from his 3 hour siesta/lunch break. So in the meantime Glenn ripped the windlass apart, cleaned it up and slapped it back together. After lunch we went through the drill again and settled into our new home.

An ideal home it is not and that is a severe understatement! In fact it is probably the worst berth in Monaco, perhaps Europe and maybe even the world! We are trying to get a permanent berth in Port de Hercules and we have to pay our dues and get our foot in the door here. So we are on the seawall where we regularly get large swells rolling and rocking us around. The blessing is that this boat has a ‘stabilization at anchor’ mode which theoretically is meant to keep you still and stable even if you aren’t moving. We have been working the system more days than not, but the reality is that although it helps it only cuts down on the rocking by maybe 40%. Both Glenn and I aren’t apt to ‘sea sickness’ and on the bright side we are getting ‘sea sickness’ acclimation training which may strengthen ourselves against future rough conditions. That said, it really is quite annoying with all this movement. To add insult to injury we are detached from the mainland and have to take the tender ashore to get off the boat. ‘Beggars can’t be choosers’ comes to mind.

So there are lots of challenges on the horizon not the least hiring a good crew. I lose Glenn at the end of the month and it is going to be difficult to replace him. I have to be ‘charter ready’ by March 8th so that means along with getting all the loose ends taken care of I need a Engineer/Deckie, Chief Stew and Stew/deck. Additionally, there is still a 2 week GMDSS course I need to fit in as well as probably sending one or two of the crew off to a 1 week Power boat course so they can legally operate our tenders.

There simply aren’t enough hours in the day, but I’m only here because it’s what I wanted so head down, axe to the grind, all aboard for my crazy first ride on ‘Jazz’ in the Med.