On First Matehood

Hi, I’m Ryan. I’m Chris’ wife and First (and only, according to our marriage vows) Mate. I’m quite new to this whole sailing thing, so please forgive any misuse of nautical terms and/or jargon you may find in my posts. Though I’m a beginner who is still slightly terrified of sailing, I’m attempting to embrace this project and subsequent journeys with all of the interest and effort I can muster. Chris has been dreaming of climbing aboard a sailboat and setting off towards who-knows-what since he was a boy, which I think is amazing and inspiring. I’m not sure I’ve been dreaming of anything since I was a little girl, except maybe chocolate chip cookies. The fact that my husband is passionate enough to have unfailingly held on to this dream for so long means something to me. It gives me hope that we can do what we put our hearts and minds to, and it keeps me hanging onto sanity when I’m under fluorescent lights sitting at my desk, or sitting in traffic on my commute home from work. And so, as life would have it, I find myself co-owner of a 26-foot Pearson Ariel (is it bad that the name of the boat makes me think of The Little Mermaid?) and First Mate by Default.

That being said, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a First Mate. Wikipedia tells me that a First Mate or Chief Mate is “watchstander and is in charge of the ship’s cargo and deck crew” and is also “responsible to the Captain for the safety and security of the ship. Responsibilities include the crew’s welfare and training in areas such as safety, firefighting, search and rescue.” Ok, that seems straightforward (and maybe a little boring) enough. There is no crew besides the two of us. I can certainly start reading about safety measures and equipment, and I can totally be in charge of cargo, especially if we’re talking about food and clothing. However, I’m pretty sure a First Mate is supposed to be able to operate the vessel and provide other support, and as of now, I got nothing on that. The Wikipedia info is good to have (I guess), but it certainly doesn’t inspire any feeling in me about my position.


So, being an English Major, I turn to literature for inspiration. In Herman Melville’s classic Moby Dick, Captain Ahab’s First (actually, “Chief”) Mate was called Starbuck. Starbuck is a character I can understand. This line I especially identify with: ” ‘I will have no man in my boat,’ said Starbuck, ‘who is not afraid of a whale.’ ” Starbuck has a healthy fear of what he cannot control. My mentioning above that I am slightly terrified of sailing comes from a deep fear of what I cannot control. And, right now, what I cannot control is a sailboat! But, I’ll get there. Starbuck is also the voice of reason aboard the Pequod, and he tries to convince crazy ole Ahab not to seek revenge on the white whale. I’m not sure how Chris would feel about being compared to Ahab, but I think I can also take on the role of the one who voices concerns out of a wish for safety and prosperity.

An aside: Starbuck was also the name of the bad-ass pixie cut-sporting lady-pilot in Battlestar Galactica. More on being inspired by TV Show Geekdom at a later date, methinks.

I would also like to take this opportunity to say that I am not assuming First Mate status simply because I’m the wife and Chris is the husband (gag). I hope there are women out there who assume the role of Captain. I also hope there are women out there dragging their partners to sea (it would make me feel better). But in our case, because this is my husband’s idea and passion, and I’m along for the ride in a way, it’s only fitting for me to be in a sub-Captain role. And so, I’m happy to be the Chewbacca to my husband’s Han, Spock to my husband’s Kirk, and Zoe to my husband’s Mal. He and I make a pretty darn good team in life, so I’m thinking we can handle this.

So far, my role in helping fix up the boat has included the following:

  • Removing deck hardware- Spent 3 hours attempting to remove16 screws. Got 14 out, got 1 epic blister, a stink bug flew into my face
  • Scraping bottom paint- Joys of wearing a respirator, sore arms, slow progress, loud music
  • Scraping bottom paint again- Respirator fashion statement (“I make this look good!”), much more progress, beer (see? We learned), music at a reasonable volume, sore arms, sore arms

So, that’s where I’m coming from. I’d love to hear any stories from any couples out there, or from anyone who has/had a partner who got them into sailing and cruising. Chris will probably be the primary poster here on The Bonnie Boat, so I’ll let you know ahead of time when I’m the one talking at ya!

Scrapin’ By

After my little rant about bad boat names I realize that the title of each of these blog posts has been an overused-cliche punily related to boat work. This will be no different. The careful reader (notice singular form here) may recall that I pronounced “Old Salt” pox-free. While this is true, the outer layer of the original fiberglass (gelcoat) is “crazed.” Which means it’s cracking up all over the place. Which is how I feel too, incidentally. Not a structural issue, but to properly protect the hull the gelcoat needs to be sanded off and then the hull painted with an epoxy paint. To do that first we must scrape off the old layer of anti-fouling paint, and then the older layer under that as well. Anti-fouling is essentially deadly toxins in paint form, so scraping it requires suiting up. Observe:

Decked Out

The most glaring item on the to-do list is to fix the delaminated sections in the deck. The foredeck is a bit soft, and by soft I mean a trip forward feels like walking on a wet sponge. For those of you who haven’t clogged your brains with the minutia of fiberglass boat construction, the deck on most fiberglass boats is made of an upper and lower layer of fiberglass and a middle layer of balsa wood core. If the core gets wet, eventually the wood rots and the deck becomes soft. So far I’ve managed to cut off the top skin, chisel out the rotted core, glass up some holes I made in the process, lay in new core, and put a few layers of  glass on top of that.

Boat Names

As the yard fills with vessels waiting their winter re-fit, the fraught subject of naming boats comes to mind. We are planning on re-naming “Old Salt,” but lest we offend the boat or fate I think it best to keep mum on the subject for now. I can say with confidence however that we will not be using any purposeful misspellings, nautical puns, or crass fishing combinations thereof.  (Master Baiter) (Hooked on Hooters) (Etc)

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Surprise! You need a new rudder.

Upon having the boat hauled out and tucked into the furthest corner of the yard (the marina presumably anticipating delays, setbacks, and generalized newbie-mayhem on our part), my worst fears were put to rest. No boat-pox! Boat-pox is a malady that affects fiberglass boats of a certain age, caused by osmotic pressure forcing water under the outer layer of glass, and is expensive and laborious to fix. With a sigh of relief heaved, my attention was drawn to the rudder, which closely resembled the bad guys from Pirates of the Caribbean. That is, covered in barnacles, full of Teredo holes, and rotting away. If this is the only surprise “Old Salt” has in store, I’ll be happy and well, surprised.

Testing the Waters

We have purchased a boat and started a blog. Let the raging narcissism begin.


Here we are, the proud owners of Pearson Ariel hull # 412, built in 1967 in Bristol, RI. She’s spent the last several decades sailing the Rappahannock on weekends and supposedly ventured as far afield as Bermuda. Here we hope to chronicle her (laborious) return to “Bristol” condition and (hopefully) subsequent nautical adventures. Welcome aboard!