After a two year break, I stepped aboard NANCAT once again. The name comes from Nancy Catherine Keating, my wife. I have a small thirteen foot wood wood catboat. The boat is the smallest of a class of boats known as catboats. They are suited to shallow bays because they have shallow drafts. Cat boats have their masts far forward and are not noted for speed. They were the boats that plied the Great South Bay early in the 20th century. Fishermen and clammers liked them because their broad beams and stability made it easy for their work.
Cindy and Paul Theiss have a dock on Sampawams Creek on the Islip Town side. They generously agreed to let me dock there. I met the couple when I presented a power point program on Sampawams Creek.
I expected to sail for two months. “September and October are the best sailing months,” says Roger Holtzmaker. Roger helped me restore the boat, launch the boat, and offered tips to a greenhorn. With two years of sailing under my belt, I can finally sail.
On launch day, I asked a friend, Sttephen, to help me. He stepped the mast, and fasten the three mast stays. As a thank you, I let him sail while I hunkered down in the front. We had a north wind and cruised south toward the may very quickly. The return trip was difficult. We had to tack up a narrow creek. I got to know Stephen. He bought a 15 foot vintage cat boat. “It leaks. I can’t launch this year. It’s upside down n my garage.”
The first week of September proved Roger wrong. We had high winds, and rain all week, so I managed to place a tent over the sail and boom. It rained the next day which ment less bailing. I practiced furling, a skill I have not yet mastered. I finally achieved this. The problem I had was the length of the sail. My boat is rigged with a Marconi mast and sail. The sail shape in long and narrow. This boat was used for racing. As a beginner, I don’t intend to race.
The key to furling is to drape the sail over the mast until the folds touch the floor. Then, starting at the bow, start wrapping and tying as you work toward the stern. Wrap and tuck, wrap and tuck. I finally ended up with a neatly packed sail.
My intention on my first solo sail was to refresh my memory and practice the skills I learned two years ago. The weather report said 5-15 MPH winds out of the south west – typical September winds. I unfurled the sail, attached the halyard, and started to raise the sail. Then the problems started. About half way up, the sail stopped rising. Something was interfering. I checked the halyard, the sail, and tried again to no avail. On the fourth try, I saw what the trouble was. Pieces of wood were stuck in the mast groove. I decided to drive home and get something that would dislodge the blockage. Half way home, I turned back realizing that I could rig a wood pole that I used to grab dock lines. I duck taped an open scissors to the end of the pole and had enough room to reach up and break the blockage.
No sooner had I raised the sail when a gust of wind filled the sail, throwing me off balance and into the water. How’s this for a fitting start?
I quickly climbed back and lowered the sail. I should have known this. I pushed the boat out of the slip and raised the sail in the middle of the creek where I have room to maneuver.
It felt wonderful to finally be underway with main sheet in one hand and tiller in the other. At the start, the creek is narrow. I steered toward the eastern side of the creek to take advantage of the wild. If I sailed on the eastern side, I’d be blown against the bulkheads.
Once again, I heard the snap of the sail and gurgle of water beneath the boat. I was free!
I passed the only shoreline on the Islip side that has no bulkhead. Tall reed grass chokes the shore. I wish I could remove that plant and replace it with the cord grass that grew all along both banks of this creek.
I returned to the dock and put the boat to sleep. I was tired but excited.
The last task was to bail the bilge. The boat leaks. Roger advised me to fiberglass the centerboard well where most wood boats leak. I didn’t and he’s teased me ever since.
After lunch and I nap, I felt a tightness in my body. NANCAT had given me a serious yoga session. I twisted my body, bent, reached, and did dozens of other poses. Yes, my little boat is my workout studio…and free!
He has published two books; THE NISSEQUOGUE RIVER: A JOURNEY and HIDDEN AGENDA; A POETRY JOURNEY.He has also published many essays and poems in such journals as the Long Island Forum and The Long Islander.