It happens slowly, and almost without any warning. Then you notice it. Sea smoke on the water, the first you've seen this year. The night time temperature is lower than it's been in months, the windows are open, air conditioning silent.
In Annapolis, it happens just this way, every year about this time.
Labor Day is only days away, and already the mood is shifting into the fall season: the start of leaves falling, fleece sweaters, and the traditions of boat shows in town. For most everyone who loves sailing, going to the Annapolis Sailboat Show is as much a part of boating as being on the water. The organizers cram every shape and size sailboats into the town's central dock, floating piers and ramps brought in to create a mega show for sailors. If it is sold for a sailboat or crew, it comes to Annapolis early October, rain or shine. It is a tradition for thousands of sailors who make the pilgrimage to Annapolis from around the world.
The following weekend is the powerboat show, which is pretty cool most years, if not the glamour and pizzazz of the Ft Lauderdale International Boat Show a few weeks later. If you have never been to the Lauderdale show, it is beyond crazy. Need a 40-foot submarine for your yacht? What color would you like? Need uniforms for your helicopter crew? Would you like their names embroidered with the yacht name above the pocket? Yes, we have all sizes in stock.
Fall in Annapolis is meaningful besides just the boat shows. The U.S. Naval Academy begins football, and the uniformed midshipmen and their families become an integral part of the landscape, as do the sounds and bustle of traffic competing on the roadways designed for horses and carriages centuries ago.
It is also the time for cruisers to head south. The timing of the annual migration takes place around the show schedules, as sailors and other cruisers time their departure at the end of the shows, giving them a chance to see or buy that last piece of gear at show discounts, and then the fleets venture south. Sailing and cruising organizations also plan their big social events to coincide and integrate with these activities. If you ever wanted to hear noted sailors speak of the many subjects of sailing and cruising, this would be the time and place to mark your calendar, as the speaking circuit evolves around the shows and related events. In past years, we got to see Tania Aebi, Tristan Jones, Hal and Margaret Roth, Dennis Conner, Jimmy Spithill...today we might have Behan Gifford, Pam Wall, and Lin Pardey.
We hosted TrawlerPort for many years at the Annapolis show, collecting all of the trawler style boats together on the same docks to make it easier to compare and evaluate. These days, Trawler Fest happens just before the sailboat show, a short distance away at the Bay Bridge Marina. Days of seminars and presentations happen while boats of all shapes, sizes, and prices are spread around the docks for those looking to get into the trawler lifestyle. Such events were always great fun but lots of hard work to pull together. But we had a team of enthusiastic staff who loved every minute of this multi-day experience.
Yes, this time of year is special, but there is yet another reason I like this time of year. There are two times a year where I clear off my daily calendar, turn off my phone, and sit down on my boat and take care of business. As we presented so many times, it is a good thing to go through your boat twice a year and check and tighten every connection, every hose clamp, ever electrical wire to make sure it is tight and secure. It just makes sense to plan a day to do this on your boat. It might take you a second or third day if you see other things that need attention.
And while you might confuse my words with some connection to the fall shows in Annapolis, the same is true if I lived in the Pacific Northwest on Lake Union or over on Bainbridge Island. While I would not likely be preparing to head south, I would certainly be getting ready for the change of seasons, getting my boat transitioned from summer cruising with wine and crackers to hot buttered rum and my famous Mexican dip that is so popular in cooler weather.
Basically, what I like to do is get comfortable and start with a small bag of wrenches and screwdrivers, as I focus on bonding with my boat's engine and systems. For this I am most definitely not a fan of Crescent wrenches, as I prefer the right wrench for each nut and bolt. It always feels better to use the right tool. I am not a Snap-on guy but totally understand the passion of those who are.
Starting in the engine room, assuming you can get somewhat comfortable, I begin by touching and feeling every hose in sight, with special attention to each hose clamp. I turn the battery switches to off and tighten every nut holding all of the electrical wires and ground connections, making sure not to shock myself. I look at wire bundles, which should be tightly zip tied and secured from sagging runs. I look for corroded wires and connections, and if I see any, I deal with it right then and now. And I keep my electrical bag handy with all the tools I need to do it right....including heat shrink tubing for mechanical electrical connections.
I look at bilge pump pickups and make sure they are clean and there is no junk in the bilge area that can clog these pumps. Do all of my lights work, and do any bulbs need replacement with LEDs? When I see issues, I don't put things off as I might have during the season. Now is the time to get things right, especially if heading south for the winter months.
It is all about attitude. I find it extremely satisfying to take care of everything. One, I have set aside the time for this, I am in the mood to get things done, and third, I am not distracted by being under way.
I am a big fan and recommend spending a minute performing the Sea Tow Automated Radio Check. (https://www.seatow.com/tools-and-education/automated-radio-check). Don't be a goofball and ask for a radio check on Channel 16, which is a pretty lame thing to do these days when there are alternatives. In our area the Sea Tow Channel is VHF Channel 27. Key the mic and say your vessel's name, and request a radio check. The system automatically responds instantly and you hear your own message repeated back so you can hear the quality of you radio transmission. Doing this on Channel 16 is for neophytes who don't know any better.
In the evening, turn on all navigation lights and make sure they work. Again, if there are any issues, replace them with LED replacements. Make a list on you notepad...and get it done. Don't put it off.
This fall ritual provides me with renewed confidence that I took care of business, which I will most definitely appreciate if I do head south, with nonstop days of travel and I want the boat to work perfectly. Leave nothing to chance.
This ritual extends well beyond the nuts and bolts of machinery and physical systems. Part II will cover many other areas that you may not consider when getting your boat back up to where it should be, again, whether you head south or not.
Case in point, a light switch stopped working this summer, and I just never got around to it. I absolutely know it will be a daily pain in the butt on the way south, when I'm tired and just want it to work. Get it done now.
And when was the last time you took a really close look at your dock lines?