Sailing: Le Bateau Sans Souci (2004)

When sailing club member Dennis invited me and fellow experienced sailor and club member Cecile to join him and his wife Kathi for a weekend trip on his new-to-him sailboat, we both knew his primary motivation. He was short on experience, and the boat was short on maintenance. Dennis had bought her somewhere north and gotten her to the Chesapeake Bay with some adventure. Now she lived in a marina south of Annapolis. Called Le Bateau Sans Souci, she did not live up to her name.

Le Bateau sans Souci

This was to be a “shakedown” cruise for both the boat and Dennis, with Cecile and me on board to step in if needed.

For starters, it didn’t. The engine did, but when the prop started to turn, water gushed into the bilge. Perhaps more alarming was that this did not seem to surprise Dennis overmuch. He knew how to fix it, and proceed to do so with some grunting and grumbling as he contorted himself in under the engine.

Naturally, this delayed our departure by a couple hours. Cecile and I made use of the time by familiarizing ourselves with the rest of the boat. Suffice it to say, it had some quirks. But most older boats do.

Dennis contemplating his new boat

We made out of the marina and around the local shoal, all of us paying close attention to the charts and the buoys, and the water level in the bilge. With full sails deployed Le Bateau sailed decently in the light wind about half-way across the Bay. Cecile and I made recommendations for adjustments to the rigging and showed Dennis how to do some things more efficiently, earning our keep, so to speak.

But Le Bateau had more maintenance issues than any boat I’d sailed on–except maybe the little powerboat my dad had for a few years when I was very young–it also sprang a leak whenever it was put in the water, but I digress. Le Bateau‘s aftermarket hard dodger–the “windshield” visible in the photo above–wasn’t terribly sturdy nor well-designed. The boat had lots of little leaks above decks, and the interior storage was problematic compared to more modern designs. The woodwork needed refinishing, the cushions and curtains needed replacement, the decks needed resealing, and the heavy, wooden stanchions on the stern, while invoking the air of a pirate ship, seemed iffy. No, I wasn’t interested in long hours cruising on Le Bateau (or working on her).

As the wind died, our speed did too, and we wallowed along for too long before biting the bullet and starting the engine. Fortunately, the stuffing box didn’t leak this time.

Our destination, St. Michaels, was about twenty-five miles away–at least five hours at typical sailboat cruising speed. We’d started late and already spent a couple hours going considerably slower, so the sun was down by the time we ghosted into St. Michaels harbor where, we learned, Dennis had not reserved a slip.

Cecile’s shoes drying by the unlit heater

The anchorage at St. Michaels is outside the harbor. More importantly, we did not have a dinghy to get to shore in. And to compound the problem, we hadn’t provisioned for dinner on board. I think Dennis had thought to use the local water taxi, but we were visiting in October, the off season. The taxi wasn’t running. This wasn’t the sort of problem Cecile or I could help with.

But Dennis wasn’t daunted. He steered his vessel right on in to the harbor, made a pass by the Crab Claw restaurant with its visitor dock, and had us prepare lines and fenders to tie up. So we did, and Dennis jumped off the boat and disappeared into the restaurant.

Fortunately, it’s a big, waterfront seafood place that caters to visitors to St. Michaels year ’round. So they were open for dinner. Unfortunately, it’s a big, touristy seafood place, far from the more exclusive restaurants in town in terms of quality and variety.

Le Bateau at the Crab Claw

Dennis came back to tell us that he’d arranged for us to stay on their dock for the night for free–as long as we had dinner and got out of there first thing in the morning. So no morning stroll along St. Michaels’ main street and late breakfast. Still, this was better than anchoring and going hungry.

We washed up on board (there being no showers for the restaurant dock) and went in to the restaurant for a lively dinner. Maryland blue crabs and cold beer are always a treat, even in a touristy bayside restaurant.

In the morning, true to Dennis’s word, we were off the dock by 8:00 a.m. The stuffing box continued to keep the water out of the bilge. The sail/motor back was slow, but mostly uneventful. And we managed to get back into the marina and secured in the slip well before dark.

It’s a long way to go for a blue crab dinner, but I was happy to help Dennis get a feel for his new boat. He kept her for a few more years, but never did realize his plan to sail south to the islands–which was probably a wise decision, no matter that it was made more by the boat’s maintenance issues than his choice.