The Block Island Times

Shooting the breeze, part I: Playing tourist in your own backyard

By Margie Bucheit | Aug 01, 2012
The Commodore

Stories from the Big Bear, as she sails the waters around Block Island with her crew of two humans — the first mate and galley slave — and one dog, the Commodore.

Late July

Before Big Bear got under sail this summer, the commodore requested a visit to the Wachusset Mountain Yacht Club. The BB crew needed to pick up a new custom made boat shower curtain stitched up by the first mate of the Wachusett Club’s flagship boat Breezes.

The Breezes' crew was heading for the Maine coast and requested payment ASAP in the form of a hard to obtain item, specifically a burgee from the Block Island Yacht Club.

“I want one of those burgee thingees,” was exactly how the Breezes'  first mate put it.

If you try to buy a shower curtain for a Catalina 30 on Catalina Direct you will pay $200, no kidding. The Big Bear crew, new members of the BIYC were able to purchase the burgee in the nick of time and get the new curtain. It is a lot better looking than the old boring white one. This one is multicolored with handprints on it.

A family in North Kingstown first owned Big Bear, our 23 years old shoal keeled, cruising sailboat. We, her second owners, bought her in 1997 and as they say in places like Maine, she is a good old boat. Her crew of three includes the captain, the first mate/galley slave; and Commodore Roosevelt. The Commodore is opinionated and impatient, does not like the water, but does like the dinghy. He is a best buddy with Commodore Seamus on Breezes. The two have decided that on sailing expeditions the best thing to do is take a nap until the captains select a port of call or the galley slaves prepare lunch.

The BB captain is an expert sailor but not great as a galley slave. The galley slave is an expert in the kitchen but a novice sailor. That pretty much evens it out. The Commodore is the boss.


Big Bear left homeport Block Island on a fair day with a northwest breeze and a brand new shower curtain. On the launch out to the boat the captain met a couple of sailing Brits.

“How did you know they were Brits?” the first mate asked.

“Their accent of course,” he said. The first mate said she had some friends who were Americans with British accents. So there.

The galley slave had the boat pretty well equipped, but forgot to put the coffeepot on board and dog biscuits for the commodore. . Before sailing everyone wanted coffee, so the captain improvised with a strainer lined with paper towels placed over the cups. That worked but the coffee looked like diesel fuel and was pretty strong. Commodore Roosevelt sniffed at it and opted for water. He was ticked about the lack of dog biscuits.

The previous night on the Great Salt Pond had been hairy with seven boats losing their anchorage because of high wind. Big Bear looked fine. She was sturdily attached to her mooring and it didn’t look like there had been any close encounters of the unwelcome kind.

After coffee, the crew stowed everything that could roll around, and the commodore crawled into his favorite napping spot in the rear birth between the stowed seat cushions and the extra supplies. Then the main was raised and the crew sailed on out into Block Island Sound. The Captain was ticked about the wind direction, not in our favor as we headed northwest out of the channel. He perked up at Buoy One BI off Sandy Point and pointed the boat towards Narragansett Bay. Now the wind was more to his liking.

The commodore also perked up when a snack was offered, even though there were no biscuits.. Cruising speed picked up to about six knots. Big Bear roared towards Narragansett Bay, close hauled, under a cloudless sky.


There was a mutiny led by the commodore due to weather. Rain, rain and more rain, two inches one day, then lightning and thunder and more rain for three more days. All crew abandoned ship until Sunday night.

Big Bear hung on a mooring at Pleasant Street Wharf, her winter port o call, in Wickford, Rhode Island. Pleasant Street is owned by the three generations of the Collins family and is right next to the Wickford Yacht Club. The Big Bear commodore and crew are fans of Pleasant Street Wharf and have the hats to prove it. Pleasant Street also puts on a pig roast that makes Wickford Yacht Club members green with envy.

We had dinner on the dock to catch up on news. Chris Collins took his boat over to the Newport Folk Festival with a merry crew. A good time was had by all. His boat, the Carol B. is a retrofitted rusted fishing vessel reimagined into a family/festival boat. She looks a lot classier since Chris and his wife Mary acquired her. There is a new paint job for starters and then there is all the unseen work that no one tells you about when you buy a boat. There is a reason for the saying: “a boat is a hole in the water into which you pour money.” Whoever said that, must have had “a good old boat” not a sleek new one where everything works except for the manufacturers defects.

After dinner Big Bear’s crew tried to find the boat that had been moved during the storm.

“Where’d you hide the boat?” the first mate asked Eric Collins.

He was a lot of help. “I don’t know I wasn’t here yesterday,” he said.

The first mate asked a fellow sailor if he could keep an eye on Commodore Roosevelt for a few minutes, so she could go look for the boat.

“Fine but the charge is $20 for fifteen minutes” he said. It seems the Commodore’s picky demeanor is getting around.

The captain spotted Big Bear on a distant mooring, and took the dinghy out with fresh veggies, frozen stuff , dog biscuits and a coffee pot. The Commodore who is small, accompanied him but was told he needed to wear a life vest in the dinghy. It made him none too happy but the Captain laid down the law. The two unloaded Big Bear and returned for the first mate. There was an awesome sunset and the crew dinghied over to an island across the channel for a walk before bed. There were no houses on this island. The first mate and captain found some nice scallop shells and sea glass, the commodore, a dead seagull.

Back to the boat for bed, tomorrow will be an early start.


At 5:30 am, the commodore awakened everyone. It was a cloudless, bright morning, not too hot. He wanted to get off the boat. The captain obliged while the galley slave made coffee, toast and fruit for breakfast. Then everything was stowed for sailing.

Big Bear left the mooring at about eight and stopped at the Pleasant Street gas dock for fuel, ice and water. There was no wind, we could have rowed the boat ashore.

Captain Dave Catlette and his first mate Lucky were up and about on the dock. They pilot a classic wooden Concordia named Aureole, that Dave has meticulously restored.

Lucky was getting a swimming lesson. Commodore Roosevelt watched with interest but did not rush to participate. He pretty much hates the water except for dingy rides. Classic wooden boats are a lot of work. The crew of Big Bear enjoys looking at them and appreciates the elbow grease that goes into their care. The first mate/galley slave is glad Big Bear has a fiberglass hull and not too much teak.

We heard from the Breezes crew. They moored for a night somewhere along the coast of Massachusetts next to Eric Clapton’s boat Blue Guitar.

“Did you go over and ask for some sugar?” BB’s first mate texted.

“No, grey poupon, but our French was too terrible,” Breezes’ crew replied.

“Quel dommage,” the Big Bear crew answered. Does Eric Clapton even speak French? We heard him play with Jeff Beck at Madison Square Garden a few years ago. I don’t know how he is as a sailor but he is an awesome guitar player.

The captain ordered the crew on board. Time to set sail, on a still sunny morning with a light breeze on a heading for the Bristol Yacht Club, flying the burgee of the Block Island Yacht Club. The crew hoped that pink Bermuda shorts were not required for reciprocal privileges, since they don’t own any.








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