By Joe Cooper
Congratulations on their remarkable success in the Newport Bermuda Race to the High Noon crew from American Yacht Club’s Young American Junior Big Boat Sailing Team. There, I said it. By now I reckon every else has said it, but I could not let the chance pass. Good going, ladies and gentlemen.
A remarkable thing happened the week of Fourth of July this year. The Coopers had their boat in the water…Yup, really. This is something like a month earlier than ‘normal.’ Just goes to show you what can be done when your wife gets hold of the really big stick. (Joke, dear.)
A couple of weeks prior, I had gone to the Hinckley yard in Portsmouth and started to put the boat together in anticipation of launching. The Bermuda Race was getting ready to go, so I made some brownie points with Bob Hood, my service manager at Hinckley by telling them to get the ‘hot’ boats all teed up and out of the way. It is always good to be in the yard,s good graces, you know.
On the Wednesday prior to end of June, I got an email from Bob: Boat is in the water…Wife very happy. (Note from her, not Bob). Thursday: Mast in, ready to roll…Yikes, now what? I thought.
Being somewhat neurotic about things boat like, in the fall I strip everything out of the boat – cushions, engine spares, sheets, towels, galley bits, tools, docklines, fenders, etc. – and bring them home. I generally find places to store it all in the areas of our house not taken up by now obsolete lacrosse and soccer kit, clothes from middle school and high school (son is to be a junior in college in a few minutes), books for which I have yet to find a shelf, let alone read, and all the stuff from the Mini, the Laser, the kayak, the two Interclub dinghies, and the Dyer Dhow. It is a good thing we used to live in an apartment in New York City.
Friday afternoon and evening were a bust, with thunderstorms and rain. Saturday morning dawned fine and clear, the front having passed and the Coopers on the road to Hinckley in two cars, completely illegal in terms of overloading and so traveling on all the back ways I know. I always think of the Gary Larson cartoon, ‘the Holsteins go on vacation’ with a family of cows standing on the train station platform with piles of luggage when doing this dance. It helps keep me sane. Odd to get Gary Larson cartoon and sane in the same sentence, but there you have it.
The Cooper Family Cruising Yacht, a lovely old Ranger 33, is in the work dock, and very accessible as it turns out. (Thanks, Bob!)
We have a mooring at Third Beach, on the east side of Aquidneck Island. This was actually the first thing Jill (Mrs. Cooper) did after getting an accepted offer on the house we bought years ago – she went to Town Hall and got on the mooring field waiting list (only one year at the time and currently about 10 years). But I rather liked the idea of sailing around Narragansett Bay for a bit before rounding the southern end of the island. This time of year the prevailing winds are from the south, and there are large fish traps – the kind with one-inch diameter steel cable holding the nets to 55 gallon drums and stretching for several hundred yards – just off the southern shore of Cliff Walk and the occasional reef or two lurking underwater, ready to embarrass one in the event of something failing. The boat is 1971 vintage, after all.
As sailors we all live in hope of great conditions and other aspects of good fortune, so it was with this mindset I called the Ida Lewis Yacht Club dock office and inquired of a guest mooring for the weekend. Yes, I know, I too thought it was a bit like the Charge of the Light Brigade with respect to the futility of the call. Imagine my complete shock when the lovely young Irish exchange student replied, “Yes, for how many nights?”
Jumping on good fortune, just like an unanticipated lift right at a critical time, said, “Three, please.” “No problem. What is the name of the boat?” The gods may be crazy (bonus points for the movie reference) but they were also shining on me, or at least the Irish Eyes were.
Back at Hinckley, we loaded the boat with all ‘The Stuff’ (see above) and checked the boat and the engine for all the usual things. Rangers came with an Atomic 4 back in the day, and some were upgraded to a Universal diesel along the way. Our boat has a mighty Westerbeke 27, the presence of which is a six-beer, two-column story in itself. One particular advantage is our boat has a bridge deck that I love. To file under the ‘They don’t make them like this anymore’ heading, this monstrous old beast fired up in about two seconds. Smiles all around. Saturday was a lovely summer day, sunny and warm with the breeze fresh from the WNW. I bent on the small jib, had a look at the tides, made sure all was secure below, and cast off. We had a delightful power reach down the bay to Brenton Cove and got squared away with our mooring. There we were. On a mooring in Brenton Cove, weekend of July 4th, the boat in pretty reasonable shape and in short term need of only about 15% of the items on the 83-point work list. What a life.
In much the same vein as the dog that finally gets to the car it is chasing then wonders what to do with it, we had to figure out the rest of the weekend’s logistics. This largely encompasses The Teenager, who is now self-sufficient except for laundry and meals and Annabelle the Wonder Dog, our beautiful and delightful English Springer Spaniel. We wanted to stay on the boat that night since it was a great evening for same, but we did not think bringing her onto the boat for the first time on an overnight and being reliant on only the launch was a good thing. We finally figured that out by bringing her on the boat the next day for a bit, and she was as always very much at home anywhere next to us.
The previous owner of the boat, a colleague at Hood Sailmakers, had made a remarkable tent-awning, the likes of which are rarely seen. Stretching from the mast to the backstay and lashing off on the top lifelines, it makes the deck and cockpit into a large porch. The Ranger has long bench seats in the cockpit, just right for stretching out on with one’s back propped up by the cabin. One can thus can gaze out at other various navels on the bay under the awning and contemplate life in some balmy, sun-drenched island.
We made a fast round trip back home for some Shiraz, and very yummy munching supplies from one of the local farms on the island and back to the boat. So equipped, we broke out the square throw cushions and made ourselves comfortable on our respective cockpit seats, Shiraz in one hand and cheese and crackers in t’other.
One of my strongest memories of early sailing with my dad was the smell of the kerosene he used in the hurricane lamps with which he illuminated the boat, and so the purchase of such a lamp was just about the first thing I did after we bought the boat. This Saturday the evening the sun set over the Jamestown Water Tower in a remarkable show of reds, complimenting the orange glow of the lamp hanging off the boom at the aft end of the tent. The breeze had abated and the mooring field was calm, with just the occasional splash of water from a passing launch. Over at Sail Newport, the Oliver Hazard Perry Rhode Island group was holding a fundraiser and so we had the benefit of their music.
We had sailed only from Portsmouth, half a dozen miles up the bay for a couple of hours and not to Bermuda in 80 or so hours, but the satisfaction of our arrival was at least equal to the AYC kids. I never cease to find wonder in the vast breadth and depth of all the experiences one has in this funny old game we all play called sailing. And this was just one weekend of many.
Australian born, Joe ‘Coop’ Cooper stayed in the US after the 1980 America’s Cup where he was the boat captain and sailed as Grinder/Sewer-man on Australia. His whole career has focused on sailing, especially the short-handed aspects of it. He lives in Middletown, RI where he coaches, consults and writes on his blog, joecoopersailing.com, when not paying attention to his wife, teenage son, dog, two cats and several, mainly small, boats.