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The Challenge: Launching of the Good Ship Annabel Lee By Will McLendon

On the eve of the inaugural launch of the first boat I had ever owned, I paced about my house bemused and bewildered. Two weeks earlier, my wife Melanie and I picked up our 1986 Starwind 19 sailboat, Annabel Lee, in Palm Beach County, FL, and I successfully transported her down the perilous journey of I-95 to her new home in Fort Lauderdale. But now, the task at hand was far more challenging—and the burden rested solely on my shoulders.


rowing up on a farm in Virginia, I was able to tow everything from cow manure to the cow itself, which made me the towing expert in our new family. I saw this as a chance to regain some of the male pride I had lost during the boat purchasing process. My wife, you see, is somewhat of a sailboat expert. She is part of that famous Neale family that lived aboard their Gulfstar 47 (aptly named Chez Nous), cruising up and down the East Coast and the Bahamas. And since my trips down the James River in a canoe did not necessarily make me a boating connoisseur, I relied heavily upon her expertise during the inspection and barter of our new boat, much to the amusement of the dealer. If I am going to gain any sort of credibility, I thought, I am going to have to back this boat down that ramp tomorrow with the skill and precision of someone who actually knows what the hell he is doing. I could do it. I had to do it. I was nauseous. I awoke the next morning having found little sleep in the night. My mind kept racing through catastrophic 78 July 2009


scenarios that all ended with me either jackknifing or sinking both the sailboat and our Toyota 4-Runner. During breakfast, I tried to remain confident, but my stomach was incinerating my bacon on contact. No amount of orange juice could quench my dry mouth. I tried to focus, but there was no time. The trailer was already sitting on the hitch. We had done our homework weeks in advance. Not only did we practice stepping the mast, but we also found the perfect marina for our first launch; Harbour Towne Marina in Dania featured four ramps, adequate space for our preparatory work and a reasonable launching fee. This was our destination. When we arrived, I was encouraged to see the breezy conditions had kept the crowds away. After choosing the next to last ramp in the row, I parked in an area that would allow us to begin the arduous task of stepping the mast. Immediately, we were greeted by a security guard whose double duty included collecting the $8 launch fee. I was sporting a wrinkled brow as I greeted him. “A sailboat, huh?” he said. “We

had a couple of guys up here from Miami last week with a sailboat. They were here for hours trying to put that mast up, and it took them twice as long to get it down the ramp!” Silly amateurs, I thought. Then he added, “Yeah, it’s amazing the things you see people do here. I’m sure you guys know what you’re doing. I mean, how hard is it to back a boat down a ramp?” With a smile, he pulled away in his golf cart and found a grassy perch one ramp over. I looked at Melanie and she smiled. “We’ll be okay. Let’s get started.” She had noticed the doubt flooding my face. The guard had shattered my positive aura, and I suddenly realized I was going to be the marina jester. With my head bowed, I climbed aboard the Annabel Lee and began untying the line that held down her mast. We stepped the mast with more precision than our trial run and though there were still hiccups in the process, it all appeared to be going smoothly. A feeling of renewed spirit See CHALLENGE continued on page 76