A Nautical Terminology Lesson from our Sunbeam Steward

by | Jan 5, 2023 | News

A color photo of the Sunbeam at low-tide at Matinicus harbor, listing towards the dock
The Sunbeam listing towards the dock in Matinicus

List is another word that expanded in meaning once I started working on the water. Sure, I make grocery lists and I list cookie recipes to try in 2023. But now also there is another list that I am familiar with aboard the Sunbeam

When a boat leans port or starboard (left or right) in the water it is said to be listing. A boat lists when it has uneven weight distribution aboard. This can happen when the cargo shifts in rough seas or when a boat takes on water. Either of these situations could spell danger for a boat out to sea and could lead to capsizing if the list is too great. The list on the Sunbeam I’m talking about is slight, safe, and intentional.  

We visit Matinicus coming and going on high tides because where we dock, the water recedes completely at low tide. The dock we tie up to is big and sturdy, made of steel, giant pilings, and concrete. Good thing too because we lean on it. At low tide we are left sitting on the beach with the Sunbeam’s hull completely exposed. There we stay for approximately 6 hours until the water returns. After arriving on Matinicus and tying up, Storey our engineer makes our side closest to the dock heavier than the other by transferring more water to the starboard side tank. Hence giving Sunbeam a slight list. This ensures we lean starboard towards the dock when the tide goes out, instead of the other way. Depending how the wind blows at the exact moment the water stops supporting our boat determines how much further we list. Sometimes it is more exaggerated than others.  

The port side of the boat ends up being noticeably higher and crew and guests adapt. Visitors feel it immediately as they enter the salon from the stern deck and head to the coffee station. Kids love it. Feels like a slanted fun house. Makes them want to run to the toy cupboard. It can make pencils roll off tables. If I bake a cake while the tide is out, I prop the lower side of the baking pan up with tinfoil wedges. Otherwise, one side can come out 1” deep with the other 2 1/2” thick. Cheese on a pizza will slide to the starboard side in the oven. Frying anything on the stove is a challenge because all the hot oil puddles on one side. Fried eggs end up shaped like half-moons.  

Storey and Douglas have their staterooms on the port side. At times they prop up their mattresses with pillows, so they don’t roll out of their bunks. Conversely, me, in my stateroom across the hall starboard, is cradled in my bunk because the list makes us lean into the boat’s hull.  

All in a day’s work. And just like magic, the water comes back, and we float again. 

A color photo of the Sunbeam at low-tide at Matinicus harbor, listing towards the dock

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