the birth of the phoenix

Bellingham, MA

Approximately a year ago, my father stepped from dock to boat in Falmouth, Massachusetts. The Laura, a 30′ Catalina sloop, slowly motored down the Child’s river. With a 5′ draft, the Laura barely cleared the river sand bars, even when following the well-defined channel to the sea. Passing the breakwater, the Laura entered the North Atlantic between Falmouth and Martha’s Vineyard. Sails raised and filled with wind as the ship headed southwest along the New England coast. Dad was fulfilling a lifelong dream, sailing south for the winter to the Bahamas on his own boat.

Dad sailed south through icy October seas and chilling rains. He anchored out every night, going inland only once, in Newport, to replace a forgotten cell phone charger. A week after his departure, he sailed along the docks of New York City, and saluted the Statue of Liberty from behind the wheel of his own ship. But that was as far south as he went. His wife, angry at his departure, wasn’t returning his nightly calls. Over the following week, he returned home.

My dad’s second wife never warmed to the ship which bore her name. She distrusted the wind in the sails, and she feared the confines of shipboard life. When my dad returned, she acted as though he had never been gone. But when he continued sailing the cold New England waters into the winter, she forbade him to sail when there was the slightest breeze, lest his ship capsize and leave her a widow.

My dad continued sailing, going out to sea while lawyers dealt with the paperwork of divorce. He used his share of the proceeds from selling the home to purchase a new boat, a 45′ Jeanneau which we named Phoenix. The ship was the vessel which would bear him in his new life.

The Phoenix is based in Bristol, Rhode Island. We’ve spent the last few months getting her ready for offshore voyaging, and starting on Tuesday we leave for a two-week shakedown cruise to Maine. She’s a comfortable ship, with three staterooms and two heads. Ample hatches let in light to warm the rich wooden interior. The salon table seats six, as does the outside cockpit table.

The Phoenix is also a capable ship, with a 63 foot tall mast carrying a furling main and jib sail that can both be deployed from the cockpit. Two GPS plotters show us our course across a chart, while radar scans the seas around us for traffic obscured by darkness or fog. She has two radios (VHF & SSB) for communicating with shore. A wind generator charges her two house batteries, and a watermaker purifies sea water for drinking. At the end of the day, she drops a 45 pound anchor and 200 feet of chain rode, holding us safely against tide and wind.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sending tales from our shakedown cruise ‘down east’ to Maine. My Dad is my captain, and I’m his first mate. My Uncle Donald and Aunt Paulette will be the crew. Neither of them have ever sailed, and they’ll be learning as we go, everything from tying a half hitch knot to gybing through the wind.

Since the ship’s modem is not yet operational, the postings will be sporadic. I’ll look for the occasional Kinko’s or Starbucks offering WiFi service, but you may receive most of the stories all at once, when I return to shore. As with my previous stories ( I’ll try to be as honest as possible about what’s happening and what I’m feeling. At the end of each of these posts, I’ll try to include a nautical glossary, but it’s very possible I’ll miss terms that I use without thinking. Feel free to send questions if you don’t understand anything, and I’ll attempt to explain it.



Towards the stern (back) of a boat.
A horizontal structure attached to the boom to support a sail. On a sloop, there is one boom, extending aft from the bottom of the mast. If it whips around and hits the side of your head, it goes ‘boom!’
Turning the boat so that the stern passes through the wind. This is a tricky maneuver. If it’s not done properly, the boom can be caught by the wind and slammed violently across the boat. I once had skin ripped off my nose when I accidentally gybed and a line hanging off of the boom whipped across my face. (Pronounced, and sometimes spelled, as a variation of ‘jibe’.)
A toilet aboard a ship. So named because they used to be up front on old sailing vessels, by the figurehead.
The vertical structure on a sailboat which serves as a support for sails. Masts used to be wooden, but are now usually aluminum or carbon fiber.
A line between the ship and it’s anchor. Usually a rode is at least partially chain for weight and holding power. The rode of the Phoenix is entirely chain.
The ‘living room’ of a ship. For some reason, pronounced ‘saloon’.
The most common sort of personal sailing vessel. A sloop is recognized by having one mast and two sails. A main sail extends from the mast aft, and a jib extends towards the front.
A bedroom on a ship.
The back end of a boat.

2 thoughts on “the birth of the phoenix

  1. Ron!

    What a fantastic life!
    How old are you now?
    Love the descriptive way you write.
    Am now 83 and with you vicariously.


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