The Sounds – Noises


Living in the ‘dirt house’ as long-term boaters refer to conventional homes, we get used to the noises.  That creak in the hallway floor.  The whine of the air conditioner.  That vinyl siding creeping on nail heads as it warms in the spring sun after a cold night.  Dozens of sounds.  The way the wind rattles the porch light and makes the cover on the grill flap against the metal lid.  We get used to them.  We know them by heart.

And now – new noises.  I’ve slept in my runabout before.  Heard the creaking of the dock lines.  Barely, but it sounded ‘shippy’ to me so it was pretty cool.  Our first night in Coinjock I heard a different sound coming from the dock lines.  That noise they use in movies featuring old wooden ships.  A base level creaking, not some wimpy screech but rather a creak with smoker’s cough.  Low, slow, more like a growl.  The movies do a good job on it – or else they recorded real ships pulling against the dock piling and cleats.  

Every marina is different.  Dock and piling builders use very specific tools to create their own unique resonance. Some lower, some higher.  I think if we could get tied to three different docks at one time we could play a tune or two.  It’s always there – the creak.  Sometimes faint with no wind, no tide, no current.  A gentle tug back and forth against the lines.  Other times, like tonight here in Roosevelt Channel, we’re being lashed by 30 knot winds and the lines they are a singing.  Growling. Clawing at the cleats. Hanging on against the surge and tug of Shangri-La lunging in the wind. Keeping her safe.  

And then there’s the fenders.  Huge plastic balloons we place between the hull and the docks.  Wrapped in fabric, they are usually quiet.  But tonight, they are smashed nearly flat trying to hold the boat against the wind.  So they play their own subtle groan.

Every guy who’s dinked around with things that go spark knows the sound of an electrical arc.  So unique.  A snap, quick and sharp.  Not like snapping your fingers, but like the difference between a  black powder gun and a .22 pistol – quick like a click.  During one of our early anchor outs I was in the basement (the engine room) trying to find an electrical arc.  I could hear it. Snap, snap, snappity snap.  I thought I had it narrowed down to the aft area, then stood up and realized it was amidships.  Or is it. . . for nearly an hour I went almost insane trying to find that snapping.  And then I remembered – shrimp.  Krill, whatever they are. Small critters that scoot along the hull at night.  Flicking their tails against the fiberglass hull as they go, nibbling on the moss and vegetables growing beneath the water line.

I’d read about them.  In some areas they are intense – like that night in South Carolina.  Some nights not so much.  We often lie in bed and upon hearing the first few clicks, we both say – “shrimp” at the same time and laugh.

When it’s calm, there are few noises that cause concern.  The shrimp, maybe a gentle lapping of water against the hull (which we crave.)  Not much.  Things change when the wind whips.  I’m pretty sure I’d go insane living on a sailboat. Back in the day I used to climb over the 8′ fence behind the house at night and march down to the end of the high school soccer field to tie off the loose rope on the flag pole.  That clanging against the aluminum mast some 150 yards away drove me crazy.  The neighbors would watch out the window as I’d saunter back to the fence in my tighty whities and scramble back into the yard.  For my birthday one year, the neighbor gave me a master lock key.  Then he walked me to where he’d cut the fence and put a clasp and lock on it.  I nearly cried.

Rigging they call it.  On a sailboat it looks to me like a macrame project gone horribly wrong.  Lines up, left front and sideways.  Enough lines to make a wagon train out of a fleet of school buses.  They love the wind those lines.  Especially the two that run up and down either side of that huge aluminum mast.  Smack, smack, smack. . .So when we’re in a marina we hear not one, or two but dozens of smack, smack, smack.  Be me for one hour.  But I got over it.  We have some lines and rigging of our own.  They are with us to hold the dingy boom and mast in place. They whistle and whine a bit but they do not smack, smack, smack – because when they do I wedge a full water bottle between the line and the smackee.

The loud ruckus of noise when we’re traveling we expect; the throat of the diesels, the crash of the bow wave and the wind in the isinglass.  It’s at night where we pay attention. We hear everything from the tap of a loose branch nudging the hull as it swims by to the whir of the ice machine getting ready for tomorrow’s docktails. Mixed in even on a quiet night, are the breezes.  And that’s nirvana.

Eat life my friends.