On Boats, Babies, and Rolling Hitches
A lesson learned and a fender returned, this soon-to-be granddad comes full circle in the name game. "On Watch" from our November 2010 issue
It was a calm, hot day in Skopea Limani, Turkey, and perfect for swimming, napping, and discussing potential baby names. I gave a lazy yawn and said, "Tiller, I think, is the perfect name for a boy."
"And if it's a girl?" our pregnant daughter, Roma Orion, asked. She was treading water-a bit awkwardly-beside our anchored 38-foot S&S-designed cutter, Wild Card. Christian, her husband, sat next to me in the cockpit. He was nursing a beer.
"Well, if it's a girl," I said, "I favor the name Patience because a sailor is patient above all else. Patience is something we all need more of."
We were in the middle of yet another languid family cruise, this time along the southern coast of Turkey. A couple of months ago, it was Israel. Before that, it was Thailand. In fact, most of the time I've spent with my son-in-law has been in cruise mode, as he calls it. I'm always a bit taken aback to see him in an Armani suit, jetting around the world making business deals.
"I don't know, Fatty," Christian said. "Tiller is a bit unusual. I was thinking more of a name like Brenda or Bob or, you know, something normal."
"That's funny," scoffed our daughter, "coming from a fellow who married a Roma Orion and is speaking to a person known as Fatty!"
"Don't name it after me!" I joked pleadingly. "Master Fat doesn't have a nice ring, nor does Princess Fatette."
Christian shook his head. "How in the world did I get tangled up with such a completely nutty family?"
My wife, Carolyn, handed up yet another gourmet snack platter into the cockpit and said to Christian as she emerged, "You must be atoning for a sin in a previous life."
"Hey," said Roma, "whose side are you on, Mother?"
Our daughter was a third-generation liveaboard when Christian, a confirmed dirt dweller, swept her off her Top-Sider-clad feet. It was a shock. We raised her as a wild child in smoky Caribbean rum shops, and she gets hitched to a lily-white Catholic with a shore job? Weird!
"Are we ready for our afternoon hike?" I asked. "Just over the ridgeline is Tomb Bay. It's a bit of a climb, but not too tough. We can stop and wait on Roma-the-slowpoke. I understand the sarcophagus there dates back to the 4th century B.C."
"Wow, that's even older than you!" said Christian.
"Watch out, young man," I said with a smile. "When you get the bill from the maternity ward, you might turn gray yourself!"
A few days before this, I'd been beachcombing and came across two local fishermen mending their nets. We chatted for a while, as they wanted to practice their English. Their names were Mustafa and Abdulla. They were brothers who lived in a tiny shack in nearby Kapi Koy. In order to survive economically, they did a number of diverse things: sold freshly baked bread to passing gulets, the traditional Turkish fully-crewed charter boats; fished; tended goats; gardened; collected shellfish.
They were familiar with charterers but intrigued with the boat-as-ocean-home concept.
"You've lived aboard for 50 years?" asked Mustafa. "You must be rich!"
"Yes, and 40 of those years have been with my wife, Carolyn," I said. "But no, I'm not rich. I'm just like you. I work every day to get by. If I don't work, I don't eat. Sometimes things go well, and we get a bit of meat with our rice. Other times, it's hard luck and hard tack, so to speak."
"Tell us about circumnavigating," said Abdulla. "What's your favorite place? What about storms?"
"Our favorite destination? That's the next one, of course. But Chagos is magic. We enjoyed the rain forests of Borneo. And we loved Madagascar, where they live in mud huts and build elaborate cinderblock graves. Storms? They've never been a problem for us. They're a fact of life, like lightning. They're beautiful, with a hint of danger. We embrace it all. Life is a package deal."
Mustafa was the practical one and stayed focused on the money. "But your boat cost a lot, didn't it? So you must have had a pile of money at some point."
"Not really. Wild Card's salvage rights cost $3,000 after Hurricane Hugo," I said. "She had a one meter by four meter crushed section on the port side and was sunk along the shore of St. John, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. That's about 4,500 Turkish lira. Her real cost, of course, was in the blood, sweat, and tears we put into her, the same coin of the realm you guys trade in every day here."
"You don't have a car?" Abdulla asked. "Your boat, Wild Card, is your only means of transportation?"
"We don't have a car, just like you," I said. "Every single thing we own is aboard her. But she isn't just our transportation. She's the internal universe we use to explore our external world, Mother Ocean."
I paused and wondered if I was losing them. Sometimes I get a bit too mystical. But the truth is never wrong, even when it becomes complicated.
"Wild Card is our home, our transportation, our hobby, and our sport," I said as I plunged on. "Plus it's my profession. Oh, yeah, and our bomb shelter, should the shore-huggers go collectively nuts. If the food chain is ever interrupted, she could be our breadbasket as well, assuming a few fish are left in the sea. But, that's only part of it. There's more. . . ."
My voice trailed off. I couldn't articulate the full breadth of what my beloved boat was or how much she meant to me. Words seemed a bit thin. But that's my job as a writer: to capture in words what's in my heart. And something else was in my heart when I thought of my boat, but it was just out of reach of my consciousness.
When I returned to Wild Card, Roma Orion asked, "Who were you talking to on the beach?"
"Some fisherman," I said.
"What about?" she pressed.
"Life," I said. "You know me, Roma. I'm always asking the Big Questions. They're nice guys. We're not so different, their horizon is just smaller."
Skopea Limani (just 12 miles east of Fethiye) has dozens of perfect anchorages. We spent a week exploring them, and ourselves. Ruin Bay had been our favorite because, while Carolyn and Roma conducted girltalk in Cleopatra's Bath, Christian and I had retired to Wall Bay restaurant and enjoyed cool drinks in the shade of a hot sun.
While we've been sailing along Turkey's southern coast, we've discovered that the main difficulty hasn't been in finding the perfect harbor-it's been finding one shallow enough for us to anchor. We'd wanted to anchor in Kapi Creek, but it was 300 feet deep just 200 feet off the rocks.
"We'll anchor stern to," I said that day to Christian, "and you and Roma can run my stern lines ashore in the dinghy."