Waitin' on the Weather
Our sea gypsies have a few tricks up their sleeves to garner sweet rewards from sour conditions. "On Watch" from our August 2010 issue
After 40 wonderful years of living aboard together, Carolyn, my wife, and I still enjoy waiting for weather in a snug harbor while the winds howl outside. We count our blessings-that, for instance, we're not out to sea in such severe conditions-and revel in the luxury of nearly endless amounts of time to read, relax, and just enjoy each other's company. But eventually, on Day Three or Four, we grow bored. Our novels pale, and we suffer from an embarrassment of pleasures of the flesh. It's then that we crack open the hatch a tad and survey the other yachts scattered about in the anchorage.
"Bread or books?" I'll ask.
The last time I posed this question was a couple of weeks ago, during a boisterous northerner while we were anchored off a small island in Eritrea, at the bottom of the Red Sea.
"Bread," she said, and quickly started tossing the flour into a pan. A couple of hours later, I climbed into our bouncing dinghy with each hot loaf individually packaged to retain its warmth and rowed around the choppy harbor distributing them among the other cruising boats anchored there.
To say that the warm, delicious bread was well received is to make a vast understatement. We were suddenly the most popular folks in the anchorage and the only couple known by all.
I was even invited aboard the lovely (and almost new) carvel-planked wooden Macy by David Goss and Julia Taylor, one of famed New Hampshire shipwright Bud McIntosh's traditional designs. We were also invited to a cockpit cocktail party on a different vessel that very night, and then, the following day, we were inundated with guests "just stopping by to say thanks." Many of them were easily cajoled aboard for more of the coffee and treats that Carolyn is so rightly famous for.
Nearly every loaf gained us new friends and acquaintances.
"Instant camaraderie," quipped Carolyn, "is easy, if you knead it!" (See what I mean about having the luxury of time and opportunity to be deliciously silly together?)
Books serve a similar purpose. We just toss a couple of dozen trashy novels into a large trash bag and row around to see if anyone has as decadent a taste in literature as we do.
We usually exchange as many sea yarns as books and often catch up with the harbor gossip at the same time.
This is a great way to get to know strangers, as I've found that people who are passionate about their tastes in literature are passionate about life as well-and just the sort of folks I enjoy getting to know more about.
Of course, sundowners are the traditional icebreakers for most cruisers. I've probably been to about a thousand of these informal cockpit parties in my 50 years of living aboard-events during which the recounted height of the threatening waves and the speed of the howling wind rises with every drink consumed.
A weekly variant on this is 10 A.M. Sunday Services, a tradition we picked up in the Chagos Archipelago from David and Anne, who sail Ferric Star.
At first we hastily turned down their giggling invite, thinking it was something actually religious.
But the raucous laughter floating across the harbor at Île Boddam convinced us otherwise, and when we went to investigate, we discovered an endless orgy of Bloody Marys and pancakes.
"The advantage," hiccupped David, "is that you can reasonably throw everyone off your boat at noon without being considered impolite."
I was thinking how clever that was when I realized there were about 25 people aboard Ferric Star and it was nearly 1500. Oh, well. So much for advanced planning, eh?
Carolyn loves throwing parties; any excuse will do for her. Since I've stopped drinking, I usually begin to grow bored after the second hour of rum swirling, and angry around the time I have to don my foulies because people are spitting their sea stories as much as telling them. So I often play classical guitar to prevent myself from handing out leaflets for A.A. Finally, when I can't take it any longer, I grab a dinghy oar and start swinging it madly around the cockpit while screaming, "All lushes ashore or back to your vessel now!"
Carolyn immediately backs up my discourteous request with the stern warning. "Watch out, folks," she says. "Sobriety makes him violent!"
They scatter like leaves.
Sometimes I worry they'll be offended by such rudeness.
"No worries," says Carolyn breezily. "Just unscrew a tequila bottle or pop open a brewski and they'll all be back aboard Wild Card before you can say 'Cheers!'"
Often, while stormbound, I find I get suckered into working on someone else's pet project.
"It's impossible to fix," they say, sometimes with a sly smile. And without thinking, I blurt egotistically, "Well, I can fix it!"
Then I have to prove it.
I've found that most computer problems can be fixed by applying a bit of logic, whereas outboard-motor problems require much swearing and the bruising of at least one knuckle. (When Carolyn and I work on diesel engines together, the first one to earn their red badge of courage yells, "First blood!")
It's true that Carolyn spends as much time with a wrench in her hand as a hairbrush. One time, when she was running late for her job as a cocktail waitress at the Pussycat Club in Fort Liquordale and simultaneously berating me for being lazy, I stopped her and told her she was moving too fast.
"What's that supposed to mean?" she demanded. She froze, halfway dressed, the exasperation plainly evident in her stressed-out voice.
"It means," I said slowly, "that the deodorant you just shot under your armpits has a WD-40 label on it!"
"Damn it!" she screamed and tossed the spray can toward the tool room. Alarmed at her ill-considered fling, I shouted, "Don't lose the little red straw!"
I spent many winters living aboard in Chicago as a child and in Boston-well, at Crystal Cove, in Hingham, Massachusetts-as an adult.
In both locations, we made sure that we had a Shipmate coal stove. There's nothing nicer, when you're working outside in sub-zero weather, than to avoid it by huddling around the Shipmate with a steaming cup of java in your hands.
Nothing was ever really accomplished during the winter at Crystal Cove, but damn we sure did have fun complaining about the cold!
And the Shipmate was a real friend magnet, all right. Once it was puffing and noisily spinning its galvanized Charlie Noble, all the old New England salts would come from miles around to drink my coffee, compliment my beautiful young wife, and tell me that I was a totally stone-cold idiot for my choice of rig, or shape of keel, or whatever else they were in the mood to pass judgment upon.
"It sure is nice to know that a Shipmate stove glowing dull red guarantees more free advice than 10,000 boatbuilders could reasonably require. And to think that we got it all for the price of a shovelful of anthracite coal!" Carolyn once noted wryly.
But there certainly is no better place during a blow than the inside of a stout ship that's tucked into a safe harbor.
I love it when it rains, too. The drops sound so wonderful when they're pelting the deck. "There's no place in the world I'd rather be," I often think to myself at such times, "than on this boat and in these arms."
That's why, whenever we're told that we'll be socked in by weather for five days or so, we don't even pretend to be angry. "Get the Scrabble game!" I cry.
Carolyn says, "Are you up for some fresh banana bread?"
Cap'n Fatty and Carolyn Goodlander continue to be occasionally harbor-bound as they make their way to the Mediterranean.