Because boat projects sometimes crowd my little hatchback into doing double duty as a pickup truck, my most recent trip to the Betty Jane II was a solitary one. The co-pilot’s seat, ordinarily occupied by my wife, remained empty, presaging a return trip jam-packed with a giant headliner panel. There are four such panels that ordinarily hover over Betty’s salon, and a couple of years ago, while I was rehabbing the lot, I flubbed up a portion of the first, if ever so slightly. A repair, back at the ranchero, was called for.
When I arrived at the marina, I immediately went aboard and began taking down the panel. Although there were teak carlines and other trim strips that had to be laboriously unscrewed, the job went faster than expected. So hey, I had some extra time on my hands, even after I’d muscled the kite-like panel out to the hatchback in the parking lot, under assault from wintry, 10- to 15-knot zephyrs, and returned to Betty’s cozy interior.
Listen in the player below:
What an afternoon! In addition to the wind, there were tendrils of fog creeping into the marina. It was raining steadily. And the temperature was loitering in the 40-degree neighborhood.
“Oughta go below and take a nice, long nap,” I told myself while surveying the dreariness outside. There’s nothing, after all, quite so snug as a warm berth in a warm boat in bad weather, especially if you’re safely tied up in a well-protected marina.
But then, a crazy idea occurred to me. What about taking Betty up to Cumberland Island? Sure, it’d be near dark by the time we got back, but the route was totally familiar to both of us. And yes, there was nobody around to go along, but single-handing has never been a big deal for me. In fact, I usually enjoy it.
There were risks, of course. What if engine trouble developed—could I drop and retrieve Betty’s anchor without help? And what if the fog nixed visibility—without radar, could I safely navigate or anchor out with my GPS plotter alone? And what if the entrance to the St. Mary’s River, just south of Cumberland, was loaded with commercial traffic—could Betty and I safely deal with it?
“Yup, yup and yup,” I concluded. “No problem.”
Firing up Betty’s 240-hp Yanmar diesel never ceases to suffuse my spirit with the very same excitement I enjoyed as a kid, pulling the rope-start on my small Sea King outboard. After a little engine-warmup, I donned my foul-weather jacket, stepped outside, discombobulated the shore-power cord, tossed the lines off, jumped back aboard and, with Betty’s nose pointed upwind, shifted into gear from the lingering warmth of her lower helm station.
The ensuing jaunt was fabulous. For me at least, single-handing can be quite satisfying. Maybe feelings of independence arise from it. Or maybe there’s a sense of escape. A single-hander doesn’t really have much to do except navigate and enjoy the powerplant’s purr. There’s nobody to talk to. Nothing to explain. No extraneous problems. In a way, it’s simplicity perfected.
Or, should I say, almost perfected. Returning Betty to her slip in the dark, deserted marina at the end of the trip—a task I performed (and tend to always perform) from the flying bridge—was way more challenging than I’d counted on. With the wind gusting straight off the finger-pier, I soon discovered how tough it was to manipulate the engine controls at the upper helm station and then, once a reasonable backdown was in play, effect a mad dash down the ladder to the cockpit in time to grab a springline.
My first two passes failed—by the time my deck shoes hit the cockpit sole Betty was so far off the pier I couldn’t reach the line. But the third try, which entailed a helm seat lunge, a cockpit plunge and an impromptu lasso, succeeded. Moreover, the anxiety engendered by the fracas was, I must say, a small, small price to pay.