Posted by: wrmcnutt | November 27, 2009

Ship’s Log: September Blue – Motoring At Night

For the uninitiated, I have bought a sailboat, and her name is September Blue.  Bit of advice for those of you considering purchasing new boats:  take time off work to play with them.  I took enough time to go up to Richmond and bring her to her new home, but then I had to go right back to my job and work for a living.  I listened to September Blue’s silent blandishments for an entire week before I could go out on the lake.  But that’s a subject for another post.  Point being is . . . I’d been waiting a while to go out on the lake, and when my noble crew had to go ashore for dinner with his in-laws last Saturday, I wasn’t done sailing.  So I tossed him up on the dock and set back out upon the waters of East Tennessee.  We’d had good luck with the wind that day, sailing from Concord Park halfway to Lenoir City. We were forced to turn about when we got about to where Beal’s Chapel Road gets near the river.  If you click on the link, ignore the marked route.  Google Maps doesn’t offer a “by water” option for routing.

Once back at the dock, two things were clear.  First, I wasn’t done sailing, and second, the sun was about done shining.  I’ve never had to share the boat ramp before, but from the great exodus of bass boats, it was clear that sunset was imminent.  The sky to the west was dyed a blood read by the setting sun.  As we waited for the dock to clear we were impressed with the efficiency of the fishermen clearing their boats from the water.  Only the one ski boat took more than five minutes on the ramp.  As there were two ramps, we only had about a ten minute wait. While we were waiting, I got the bright idea for my wife to come out and meet me at the dock when she got off work, and we would do some night sailing. But she wasn’t interested in running all the way out to Concord Park after working a twelve hour shift in the Emergency Room, and she offered a counter-proposal:  I would meet her at Calhoun’s On the River for dinner.  It’s the only restaurant in town we know of with a dock.

My supercargo now deployed, I set back out onto the lake.  And at that point, my luck with the wind utterly deserted me.  The surface of the lake had turned into a dark mirror.  The last of the sun vanished over the western horizon, and I turned on my running lights.  I have since learned that F and I had not been using them right the night before.  Apparently, I am not supposed to show a mast light when I am under sail.  Just the sidelights and stern light.  But, since I was motoring, I also turned on the forward white masthead light. Apparently the rear one is for when I am lying at anchor only.

For a waterway, the Tennessee River is remarkably well lit, at least in the Knoxville area.  All around me the houses and mansions were taking on warm, friendly glows as the golden lights shined out of their windows onto the water.  Closer in, the shoreline became a darker mass, barely differentiable from the water.  I looked again at the glassy water, sighed, and dropped the outboard into the water.  And off I went, motoring into the dark.  I think I may have the soul of a sailor.  The outboard was moving me right along, conveniently and exactly in the direction I wanted.  And yet I resented the snarling thing being stuck right below my right ear.  I couldn’t hear myself think. 

The speedometer on September Blue does not work reliably.  Even thought I was running at 2/3 throttle, most of the time it read 0.0 knots.  But I had the GPS with me and I was able to track my progress.  I’d brought it along to help me keep the boat in the middle of the river in the dark.  But it also allowed me to see how fast I was headed up river.  And while I wasn’t sure exactly how fast I was going, it wasn’t fast enough to get me Calhoun’s by dinner time.  But I continued on.  Crusing through the blackness, even under power, was an adventure. 

Then I noticed something:  my running lights were getting dimmer.  F and I had used them for four hours the night before, and we’d run the depth finder all day.  The internal battery on the GPS was dead, so it was drawing off my mains.  The running lights, masthead light, deapth finder, and GPS had been drawing off my primary batteries.  If the  batteries gave out, I’d be blind and deaf.  Oh, and the channel markers aren’t lit.  They only have reflectors.  And I hadn’t brought the flashlight.  So on top of everything else, I needed to try to miss the channel markets.

So that large “punting” sound you heard echoing across East Tennessee last Saturday night was me scrubbing the mission.  I re-routed my wife to meet me at the Lakefront Tavern near the boat ramp for dinner.  I’ll try to make it to Calhoun’s via water another day.

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  1. Yeah, you do need to go to Calhoun’s by water. It’s a very pretty ride, at least from my friend’s house in Lenoir City.

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