Wednesday, July 27, 2016


A few years ago Dawn and I visited Newport, Rhode Island, the self-declared sailing capitol of the world. Newport does have a rich sailing history going back to the whaling ships of early colonial times and continuing to the fast pleasure yachts of the ultra-rich from New York who maintained summer homes there. A number of these yachts famously competed for the longest-contested trophy in sports, the America’s Cup, in the waters of Narragansett Bay. The America’s Cup has moved on but Newport is still a hotbed of competitive sailing with many large regattas taking place here every year. In fact while Dawn and I visited Newport the Formula 18 National Championships were in town. We rented a little Rhodes 19 from the Sail Newport community sailing center at Fort Adams and managed to keep our tubby keelboat out of the way of the space-age, lightning-quick catamarans competing for hardware and glory. In a couple of hours of brisk sailing we made it as far south as Ragged Point and thoroughly explored the inner harbor; it was a really nice way to cruise the renowned waters of a really nice sailing town. For all that, though, I didn’t think there were really that many sailboats around, at least compared to other yachting centers around Long Island Sound.

It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I finally made it to Annapolis, Maryland, the other self-declared sailing capitol of the world. Annapolis doesn’t have quite the yacht racing pedigree of Newport or quite so long a seafaring history, but it does have the U.S. Naval Academy - and it does have a whole lot of sailboats! Everywhere you look, a forest of masts: in river mouths, in the yacht basin, on the bay, on land in busy boatyards, in store windows, on bar mantles, in restaurant paintings. Sailing simply permeates the culture of the entire town to a greater extent than I felt in Newport. Natural, then, that this is the home of the Annapolis School of Seamanship, an institution of nautical learning that is well known among cruising sailors. Among their offerings is a popular two-day marine diesel basics class; this is what brought me to town.

Diesel engines in general and marine diesels in particular are a bit of a mystery to me. I’ve worked on my own small engines, motorcycles, and automobiles from a young age (though I confess I’ve started to leave more complex auto repairs to the pros as I’ve aged and become less destitute), so I’m reasonably sure that I’m not completely mechanically clueless, but diesels have different and often more complex fuel delivery systems and marine diesels have entirely different cooling and exhaust systems. With Windbird I’ll be diving straight into working on a popular Yanmar 53-horsepower 4-cylinder diesel (4JH4E) that’s not very old but has a lot of hours on it, and so I wanted some background knowledge before I started learning my specific engine. I signed up for the class well before Windbird’s survey was scheduled for the day prior, but convenient Delta flight connections through Atlanta made it possible to get to Annapolis by 10pm Friday night. Unfortunately puppy-care arrangements precluded Dawn from accompanying me.

The class was really good; I learned a ton and think I’ll be a lot more confident learning to work on Windbird’s Yanmar now. The first day covered Diesel theory, operation and components; the second day involved hands-on maintenance and troubleshooting. The engines used were smaller and older than the 4JH4E but the instructor, professional mechanic Scott Siegel, said they’re nevertheless pretty similar. During lunch break and after hours I enjoyed exploring Annapolis, walking the docks & looking at boats, talking to other sailors, and sampling the local brews.

The only bummer is that Dawn wasn’t able to come with, but we’ll both be back in Annapolis soon enough. The United States Sailboat Show is in early October, and immediately following is “Cruisers University,” a four-day marathon of sailing seminars covering topics of interest to cruisers, especially new cruisers like us. We’ll be going for the final two days of the show – it’s a great place to score killer deals on boat gear – and then all four days of Cruisers U. As we’ve planned our transition to our new sailing life it’s become apparent that there are two parallel preparations to take place: our boat, and ourselves. The boat prep will start very shortly – this weekend, in fact. But we’re already deep into our “knowledge upgrade plan,” and the learning process thus far has been really enjoyable for both of us.

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