Waiting for the Launch
By Joe Butera
I was becoming annoyed with the long wait for the Yacht Club Tender to return to the dock and bring me out to my boat. The dog day heat was melting my freshly purchased ice in the bag and the launch was nowhere in sight.
I dreamily gazed out at the fleet in the August haze and began to take a trip in the way-back machine of my mind. I drifted back to hot summer days like this in the late 1950’s when I was in my early teens.
My neighbors Bud and Doris Wright often took me sailing aboard their Herreshoff S Boat named Melody. The couple kept their little blue sloop on a mooring at the Town Dock in Sag Harbor. There was no tender service at that facility. Instead the town provided ponderous 12 foot wooden rowboats constructed of thick oak planking. They were self-propelled, as in you propelled them yourself, with long heavy wooden oars.
I began to relive the complex routine which was required to gain access to a boat on a mooring in those days. First we had to wait for a rowboat to become available if none were free upon our arrival. When we finally did secure a boat we would laboriously row her out to Melody and climb aboard.
We would then unlash the cockpit tarp, bail out the bilges and hoist the heavy canvas sails. The S Boat was a 28ft wooden sloop with a fractionally rigged jib, a huge mainsail on a long overhanging boom and NO MOTOR.
With the canvas hoisted we would sail back to the dock, rowboat in tow. If we were lucky enough to catch someone waiting for a tender on the float we could just undo the painter and push the boat off toward them where they would happily retrieve her.
Otherwise I would have to swiftly jump off Melody, secure the tender to a cleat and try to hop back aboard while Bud and Doris skillfully luffed up the sloop off the end of the float. I remember at least one time ending up in the drink attempting this deft maneuver.
Only after completing this complicated process could we finally commence our sail. At the end of the day the entire procedure had to be precisely executed in reverse.
There were some notable variations of this routine. In light air or windless conditions we would have to row the tender back with Melody in tow, much like becalmed whalers of centuries gone by. With the rowboat secured back on the float we would then scull Melody out into the harbor like a guppy by moving her tiller and thus her rudder rapidly back and forth from port to starboard.
This presented a good time for us to eat our lunch and tweak the rigging as we waited for the wind to pipe up. To understand what we had to do in heavy wind conditions, just imagine the entire drill in fast forward, very fast forward.
My mind began to slowly focus back to the present as the Club Tender was pulling up to the dock. I hopped aboard the sleek fiberglass diesel-powered launch without saying a word to the young operator. I settled down on the comfortably contoured bench seat with my ice still melting in the plastic bag at my feet.
I felt the warm breeze on my face as the boat powered up and sluiced through the calm water. I began to laugh quietly as I contemplated the contrast. I would be aboard Belle, my 28 ft fiberglass sloop, in effortless moments. I would fire up the auxiliary diesel engine and set out to find some wind while the launch powered back to the dock. My annoyance at the wait now seemed silly.
When we pulled up alongside Belle the tender operator asked me a little sheepishly “Was it a long wait Mr. Butera?” I replied wistfully “It’s been more than 50 years son”.
He must have thought I was being sarcastic.
About the Author
Joe Butera is a lifelong sailor and Marine Corps veteran. His works have been published in local and national periodicals. He is retired from the financial services business and currently the Commodore of the Northport Yacht Club where he has been a member since 1973. He and his wife Pat, a Nurse Educator enjoy sailing their sloop Belle on Long Island Sound.