copyright © 2005 Yvonne Ervin
"You want to go to the Newport Jazz Festival on a sailboat?" my friend Lee asked me in July. Of course I wanted to, that's on my top-20 list of things to do before I die. My QE2 cruise to the festival in the late '90s was very disappointing and I envied all the people on sailboats in the bay.
Lee's friend, Dr. Dan, is a psychiatrist, musician and a big jazz fan. His 42-foot sailboat sleeps four comfortably. The "crew" was Lee, her boyfriend Bernie, and me. Dan had sailed solo for three months, so he didn't need a crew. That was a good thing, since I'd been on a sailboat four times as a tourist.
We motored out of Montauk Lake on Friday morning and were able to sail for a while. Dan had a fishing line with a huge green lure off the stern of the boat and caught a medium sized bluefish. Lee put it in a bag and I took it below. I put it in the fridge; it was still flopping and its pointed head and piranha-like teeth broke out of the bag.
I went topside and told them, "The fish was flopping around too much so I hit it on the head with a beer can." They believed me.
As we headed into Newport, the fog set in. We could barely see more than a mile. However, we had radar and a GPS; so we were alert, but secure. The fog lifted as we motored into Newport and found a free mooring. The harbormaster came by and said it was okay for us to stay on the mooring. Dan cooked the fish and some steaks on the gas grill attached to the stern. I don't like bluefish, but fresh and on the grill, it was palatable.
On Saturday morning, Captain Dan took us two by two on the dinghy to the dock at the festival entrance and we all enjoyed great sets by T.S. Monk, McCoy Tyner, Joe Lovano and Dave Liebman, and Medeski, Martin and Wood. I got a terrible headache from the heat.
Dan took me back to the sailboat and we took a swim around the boat. I decided to take a shower on deck and kept turning the knob until it fell off in my hand and water gushed out. I tried futilely to plug the hole and screamed for Dan. This was just one of the minor incidents that weekend. Murphy's Law was in full force and the air conditioner, water pressure, water heater, toilets and refrigerator all made trouble for the captain during the first 24 hours, but he fixed everything.
I was below putting ice on my head when the boat started to rock and I heard people yelling, "Captain of Sun Ra, you're on our mooring." (Captain Dan doesn't like Sun Ra, but loved the name for a sailboat.) I hid below, poking my head up a couple of times to say the captain was on his way. Dan came aboard shortly and motored to another mooring. That night we went to a party at Hot House publisher David Dittmann's house. Lee's friend Gary Keys drove his 1964 Pontiac Bonneville convertible from NYC to Newport and took us to the party in style. It was a little uncomfortable in the car for Captain Dan, since he got soaked when I nearly capsized the dinghy getting aboard in my miniskirt.
Sunday morning, as we prepared to take the dinghy back for the jazz fest, the harbormaster kicked us off the mooring. Dan decided to drop us off and anchor the boat in the bay facing the festival's main stage and I volunteered to go with him.
Then the real adventure began.
As we prepared to anchor dead center across from the stage, Captain Dan discovered that the new electric windlass — the motor that hauls up the anchor — didn't work. "I'll just haul it up by hand," he said. Little did he know how many times he would have to do that.
He sent me to the bow to drop the anchor. I dropped it and let out the rope until it dug in. We waited to ensure the anchor was secure. Dave Holland's band began to play and the sound was great! I was finally listening to the Newport Jazz Festival the way I wanted to: just kicking back on a sailboat.
For a couple of tunes, things were fine until we found our portside about six feet from another yacht. "No problem," the captain of the boat said as Dan hauled up the anchor and, covered in sweat, motored into the bay to turn about for another try.
We tried it again and, again, we anchored for a while but lost our purchase and started floating around. All the people around us were very nice, helping where they could as we floundered about. Dan hauled the anchor by hand once again as he instructed me how to steer in open water to follow the anchor line.
We vowed to do it just one more time. People were telling us to let out more line, get more chain, etc. (You've heard of "a day late and a dollar short"? We were 27 feet of chain and 100 feet of rope short, they said). I let out so much line that I was literally at the end of my rope! With just a handful of rope left, it took all the strength I thought I had to haul in enough rope to secure it to the cleat. Joshua Redman's Elastic Band had started to groove.
We were finally safely anchored and watched with empathy and amusement as, one by one, the other boats motored in around us and drifted off their anchoring. We helped them as best we could. Captain Dan and I were finally relaxed as Dave Brubeck took the stage. Once Wynton and Brubeck had their big trad jazz finale, it was time to leave. It was storming in Connecticut and we weren't sure what to expect on the seven-hour return trip.
Dan went for the anchor and I took the wheel. But this time it wasn't open water; boats surrounded us within 12-20 feet. He gave me orders on where to steer as he brought up the entire anchor line. I came precariously close to at least one boat. As he pulled the anchor aboard, all the boaters cheered and clapped.
We retrieved Lee and Bernie at the dock and motored away from Newport. It was cloudy, the wind wasn't in our favor, but the water wasn't too rough. About an hour out, we snagged fish. As Dan reeled in the fish, Lee went below to get a beer can — so I could hit it on the head, of course. Dan pulled fish aboard, over the port side and right into me! One of the many hooks on that big green lure went into my left arm and I grabbed the two-foot long fish by the mouth with my right hand and held it against my side as it flopped madly back and forth against my side. The hook hadn't gone in past the barb so Bernie and Dan got it out and took the fish. There was blood streaming down my arm and it wasn't the fish's blood. Something had lacerated my ring finger.
Ever since I was a six-year-old angler, I've been afraid of getting caught by a fishhook. I'm over that one, now. I wrapped my finger in six paper towels, hit the fish on the head with a beer can and drank the beer. It took another six towels before the bleeding stopped. Did I mention I don't like bluefish?
Things calmed down after that and Lee and Bernie took a snooze. Dan came up from below, sat next to me and just shook his head slowly. "What's up?" I asked. The GPS that was to guide us into our berth had stopped working. We now had just the radar to track the shore. We didn't tell the others until it was necessary to start trying to spot the buoys marking our way into Montauk Lake.
It was a misty night and we could only spot the buoys when the lightning flashed. (Did I mention that my only remaining fear is being struck my lightning?) It was tense, but we made it through, and on schedule at 10:45 p.m.
We were elated and exhausted when we made it to the dock, Captain Dan most of all. That's when he made a small but fateful error. He put it in reverse for a second to correct his steering into the berth. But he hadn't tied up the dinghy and the propeller got caught in the dinghy rope, stopping the motor. Dead. I threw out the anchor and this time it dug in right away.
The next thing I knew, Dan was diving under the boat with a knife to try to cut the prop free. I was having Flipper flashbacks as we all held the boat as steady they could by grabbing onto the dock pilings and another yacht. Dan went under several times but finally gave up. He'd recently bought the best rope to tie the dinghy and he got his money's worth.
We decided to haul the sailboat into the berth behind us by pulling on the other yacht and the dock. The first problem was the dinghy. We nearly crushed the motor and half sunk the dinghy but we got it under the dock to make room for the sailboat. I've never pulled so hard in my life, trying to get that big boat to the dock.
When we finally tied the boat down and hauled out our gear, it was 1 a.m. As Lee began to drive Bernie and me back to New York, it finally began to rain.
C o m m e n t s
Newport Jazz via boat 1 of 2 Mark
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August 11, 07
Funny story (for me, perhaps not Yvonne). I'm thinking about taking my sailboat to 2007 fest so the info was helpful. I suspected that it would as crowded on the water as on shore but I have my boat moored just the other side of the bay from Newport so I can leave if things get too hectic (and get there early to get a good spot!). Mark