Why It’s Called A Shakedown Cruise

I hear shakedown and I think of vintage gangsta movies. You know, Edward J. Robinson shakes down a small-time hood for not paying up. Robinson bloodies the punk and leaves him for dead in a garbage-strewn alley. Fade out.


Maybe that’s why the prospect of a spring shakedown cruise makes me nervous. For you non-boaters, it’s when you discover—usually in gale-force winds and miles from land—what equipment headed south over the winter.


In the nautical version of Murphy’s Law, everything that can break will. Of course, everything works at the dock.  (How often have you discovered a dead car battery in your driveway? It happens in an empty parking lot at 3 a.m. or in a foreign country, right?)


On the first day of last year’s shakedown cruise, smoke began pouring from the cockpit locker I happened to be sitting on. Talk about a hot seat.


We limped back to port with our stuff: warm- and cold-weather clothing, bedding, foul weather gear, towels, toiletries, food, spirits, charts, laptops, cell phones, books, games and CDs.


After getting burned, it was with trepidation that I embarked on this year’s Spring Shakedown Cruise.


As always, our plan—when not sailing, taking pictures, or reading—was to make the 35-foot sloop shipshape for the coming season.


Torrential rain and gale winds forced us to flush Day 1. We stayed in the marina, cleaning the cabin, playing Boggle and having burping contests. (I won.)


Day 2 dawned clear and crisp. With a small-craft advisory in effect, we headed up the bay to a protected cove about 10 miles from our hailing port. Lucky me, I thought. Wonder what the serfs are doing.


I went below for  a drink. Oops. Our gallon jug of designer water had tipped over, creating a wading pool on the cabin sole (floor). No problema. We had back-up thermoses and plenty of sponges.


Arriving at our anchorage, I took the wheel and reduced speed. My friend went forward to retrieve the anchor from its locker.


Seconds later, “Oh shit,” bellowed from the bow. “I forgot that the anchor is bent,” he said. “I meant to replace it over the winter. It will never hold.”  


I clenched my teeth.


A U-turn and 2 hours later, we pulled into our slip. The captain drove to a marine supply store for a new anchor. I sulked.


“Let’s go out again,” Queeg said when he returned with a shiny new Danforth. “It’ll be daylight for a while.”


“Whatever …”


We retraced our original course. After dropping the hook, we had dinner as the sky went psychedelic—gold, orange, violet and green. Aah, heaven on earth. Thoughts of bent anchors and spilled water evaporated.


Retiring a few minutes later to the master berth (designed for a Master Mickey Rooney), I turned on the cabin light. A flicker.


One dead battery. We had to preserve the second. I closed my book and went to sleep.


My internal alarm went off early. On a boat, I don’t want to miss a thing. At home, I’m in no hurry to start the day. I went on deck to watch watermen checking their pots and ospreys feeding their young. I thought about selling the house, calling the family and heading down the Intracoastal.


We enjoyed fresh fruit, cereal and coffee topside. Cameras and field glasses at the ready, we lingered over the breakfast table—our laps—and listened to the marine forecast on the VHF radio.


He went below to do the dishes. I could get used to this, I mused.


A minute later I heard, “There’s no water. Might be a hose or valve. I’ll fix it when we get back.”


Here’s the curious thing: If the same mishaps had happened at home in a 24-hour period, I would have gone postal. You’d be reading about me on the Crime Report page.


Out there on the water, different rules apply. As we approached our marina, a familiar melancholia overtook me.


And I recalled something I learned for the first time nearly 50 years ago—it’s hard to stay ticked off on a sailboat.


3 responses to “Why It’s Called A Shakedown Cruise

  1. Chris Hildebrand

    Lovely piece. Reminded me to check “What It’s All About” by H.A> Calahan. Beth has added a wonderful episode to his observations.

    As someone who sailed with Beth in our teenage years, it brings back great memories.

  2. Louie/Fire Starter/2DF

    Blown away am I…….I felt I was there with you that whole time….the sunset is beautiful and yes, I think water is very special, esp. being in and on the water; there is a magic to it….all emotional toxins flow out into the universe. Sailing, boating is the next best thing to flying.

    wonderful writing, wonderful musing…..

  3. I sure enjoyed reading your experience, and yes sailboats can create peace within the soul.

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