Voyage To The Vineyard

Written By: Joe Forbrich


by Joe Forbrich


If I’d known then what I know now, I never would have done it.       But I didn’t know.  So I did it.

It’s time to shove off.  I’m at the boat ramp onRed Creek Roadin Hampton Bays, sneaking my sixteen foot sailboat into the water without a permit.  I’ve spent six months building the thing out of repurposed materials, because I like being clever and saving money.  “Repurposed Materials” is defined as anything that makes you say, “Hey…I can use that for my boat!”  My mast was once a wooden flagpole.  The spokes on my steering wheel, the turned posts of a baby’s crib.  The rudder, an old floorboard.  A nice wide one from a demolished barn in Manorville.

I have a job waiting for me across the water.  Two, actually: acting in a theatre at night and learning to build boats by day.  Perhaps I should have learned to build boats before I went and built one, especially one that I am about to sail from Long Island to Martha’s Vineyard, but as Uncle Johnny says, “Sometimes you just have to jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down.”

I was inspired by a book about Gannon & Benjamin, a world-renowned boatbuilding shop on the Vineyard.  I had worked at my boat pretty much full-time since I was fortunate to be [1] getting residual checks from a small recurring role on Law & Order, and I could afford not to work another job.  I wrote to Nat Benjamin (the Robert DeNiro of boatbuilders) and offered to work at Gannon & Benjamin for free.  He wrote back and said, “Your offer is gratefully accepted.”  Next I had to secure a living arrangement there.  My friend Tonye told me there was an excellent live theatre on the Island, and they were auditioning in New York City for a play about the Tuskegee Airmen.  The Vineyard Playhouse needed an actor to play the flight instructor[2]  for a six-week engagement.  I auditioned and got the part, along with a small salary and a large bedroom in the house of a nineteenth-century ship’s captain.  Now all I had to do was get toMartha’s Vineyard.  Most people take a bus from the city to Wood’s Hole onCape Cod and then catch the ferry to theIsland.  But not me.

I have six weeks’ worth of clothes and a week’s worth of food and supplies stuffed into the four-by-six-foot cabin, as well as maps, GPS, compass, marine radio, journal, rain gear, cell phone, tools, binoculars, Eldridge Tide and Pilot Book, spare parts, inflatable dinghy, plus a spare bamboo pole, since I’d fashioned the spars for the boat from bamboo that I found growing in Flanders.  I also carry a five-gallon bucket and will stretch plastic grocery bags across the opening for my toilet.  I have just enough space left over for sleeping.  Little did I know that all this extra weight would later be the added ballast I needed to save my life.

With my heart in my mouth and a lump in my throat, I kiss my wife goodbye.  “See you soon.  I hope.”  She doesn’t think it’s funny.  My plan is to sail with the prevailing southwest wind, northeast into a harbor idyllically named Vineyard Haven.  The distance is a hundred and twenty miles as the crow flies.  My cruising speed is four miles an hour.  I hope to take four days but allow myself seven.  I should have allowed ten.  Boats are not crows.

There is only a breath of wind today.  I choose to see this is a good thing.  I’m still learning the ropes, so to speak.  I’d received a half-scolding lesson on how to read the Eldridge Tide Charts from Doctor Ferrigno, the local veterinarian.  He as much as said, “Look, you’re an idiot to be sailing on the ocean in such a tiny homemade boat, but since you’re too stubborn to be talked out of it, I might as well give you a fighting chance.”  He showed me how to use tidal currents in my favor, and how to avoid being sucked into hell.

My first day consists of sitting motionless for hours, baking in the sun, the only sailboat on the entire windlessPeconicBay.  At least Dr. Ferrigno’s tide is on my side, spiriting me toward my destination at roughly a quarter mile per hour.  A puff of wind picks up as night finally approaches and I drop anchor in the lee ofRobinsIsland.