Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Dream Day, a Dose of Reality

As the Eleanor P, our new Seaward 26RK, slipped away from its temporary slip in Stuart last Wednesday, the gimpy old man at the helm was busy watching out for a harbor-full of holiday boaters, a string of unfamiliar channel markers, and a seemingly endless flotilla of UFO's (unidentified floating objects). What a beautiful morning for our first test run.

It reminded me of a morning back in the 70's, setting out our first string of crab traps in the ICW up in Melbourne, FL. I used to park my wheelchair under a palm tree at the Melbourne Marina, scoot down the dock on my butt, and transfer into the helm seat of the Seashell, my ancient wooden 20' Thompson. I was the pilot, and my friend, George did all the heavy lifting.

It wasn't until the main sail was hoisted that it suddenly dawned on me how very different this Intracoastal outing was going to be. I was sailing my own boat for the first time in over 40 years! Instead of a squat, red gaff-rigged main, it was a beautiful white Marconi tall-rig. Instead of a tiller, it was a wheel telling me that the Eleanor P wanted to ease windward. Then, as the Genoa unfurled, another first: I was flying two sails, and the pull of the wheel disappeared. It's one thing to read about the phenomena, and quite another to experience it!

With each passing second, the list of must-do tweaks grew by leaps and bounds: the traveling helm seat had to be redesigned so as not to lock down every time it swiveled, the main sheet remote control device had to be mounted on the console so that I didn't have to fish around for the lanyard with both gimpy hands, the race car seat belt rig w/double shoulder straps had to be readjusted and redesigned so it wouldn't keep falling off my left shoulder, etc., etc., etc. If a C6/C7 quadriplegic like myself was ever going to single-hand this amazing sloop, the devil was definitely in the details.

Having the boat's designer, Nick Hake, on board was a treat, and he was compiling the tweak list faster than I could. Who knows why he took my build so personally? But thank God he did!

It was over all too quickly. As the day wore on, I relived every second of that test trip a hundred times over. Even as I write this, three days and a New Year's celebration later, I still can't shut down the mental replay. It seems like just yesterday that they were rolling gelcoat into the hull mold, but now the tweaking's almost finished, delivery is imminent, and perhaps in the months ahead it will all seem rather hum-drum . . . but I don't think so!

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