The Recent Hibernation and Rebirth of <i>Wildcard</i>

Fatty tells a winter's tale--well, many of them, really--about an off-season spent mainly in a mostly empty marina in Turkey's Antalya province. On Watch from our August 2011 issue.

Cap'n Fatty Goodlander

Gary M. Goodlander

It seems impossible, during these dog days of summer, to remember that Old Man Winter exists. It’s even more difficult for me: I’ve spent the last 30 years cruising in the tropics. But change is good. And so it was that Carolyn, my wife, and I wintered in Finike, Turkey. We were tucked up under a snowcapped Mediterranean mountain. It was glorious.

I’d forgotten how cheery a warm boat in a safe harbor feels during a full winter’s gale. How sweet is the smell of coffee brewing in a confined space. How much better food tastes in northern climes. How two warm, loving bodies feel under the weight of thick quilts.

The autumn was particularly nice. Old cruising friends poured into Finike almost every day. It was a great time to catch up and reconnect—to tell those we love just that. Sea yarns were tossed back and forth. The marina bustled with the washing of sails, the stripping of halyards, the winterizing of engines, and the lacing of storage awnings. There was a sense of excitement. Everyone had enjoyed a great year of cruising, and all were looking forward to an even better one next season.

Then, one by one—in dribbles and drabs—they drifted away, heading back to America, Germany, Holland, Austria, France, England, Spain, and Scandinavia.
Winter was the best season. Our numbers had dwindled. All the fair-weather sailors had fled, and we were the only Americans in the marina. We'd gather each evening over galley tables to spin tales of 30-foot seas, a 50-knot meltemi, and evil boatloads of Somali

pirates. At one point, only a dozen of us could be found dozing by the fire in the Porthole, the name of our communal clubhouse.

Everyone in the tiny farm village of Finike knew who we were. My steaming tea and honey-dripping baklava would be on the table of Nur’s Pastry Shop the moment I hove into view. The baker always saved a golden loaf for us. The cheese-shop owner knew we loved his “full stink” the best. The grocer saved us his crispiest apples, and the smiling market lady knew we were suckers for just-ripe bananas. The butcher would wave his bloody meat cleaver at us as we’d stroll by—and call to us down the street if he had some beef that didn’t chew like bubble gum.

And we were, at least for a brief span of time, an incredibly diverse community of dock dwellers.

The temperature wasn’t too cold. It never froze. There was no snow at sea level. It didn’t rain too much. That’s the advantage of Finike. We were surrounded by orange groves. Our electric cabin heater kept the boat toasty. Because Wild Card isn’t insulated, as was our home-built Carlotta, our only problem was an occasional drip of condensation.

I love to hike, and conditions were perfect for exploring the nearby towering mountains. I discovered a giant, partially open cave with a small, spring-fed lake. Carolyn and I would often go there for romantic picnics. I’d bring wine and cheese for her; she’d bring a steaming thermos of coffee for me.

The Christmas holidays were particularly touching. We had a party and exchanged inexpensive gifts. Each nationality banded together and presented mini-pageants of their country’s holiday rituals and songs. Some were simple and straightforward. But others—the Danes, in particular—put on quite a show. They sang and danced and recited—and even distributed plates of traditional Christmas fare. Their costumes were magnificent, and their grand finale was utter magic, with their sweet, wine-flushed faces glowing angelically from the lit candles they wore in their hair.

The oddest moment of the winter came during a severe hail storm. These are common in this area, but this one was particularly vicious. The hail stones, about the size of large marbles, struck amazingly hard. Soon they were piled higher than our cabin windows! Protecting the solar cells was easy. We just tossed our cockpit cushions over them. But the hail blew out one of our dodger's plastic windows and blasted off the red arms of our masthead wind indicator. Only a few windvanes in the harbor survived.
Wild Card was dry as a bone during the incident. A number of high-bulwark boats weren't so lucky. The hail completely clogged their deck scuppers. This caused the heavy rains to suddenly and catastrophically flood their cabins via their now-underwater dorade boxes. I'm not talking about some drips—I'm talking about four-inch streams of unexpected water!

During the winter, we also managed to slip away for some family time with our two-month-old granddaughter, Sokú Orion. We took her to 17 different Amsterdam museums and, of course, for her first boat ride. We babysat her for three months as our daughter Roma Orion returned to her university job. Up until now, Sokú had been an abstraction to me. Now she’s real. Late afternoon was her fussy time. The moment she’d start to cry, I’d whip out my guitar and sing “What Do You Do with a Drunken Sailor?” and other ribald sea chanteys. She didn’t seem to mind. She’d calm right down and listen happily for as long as I played. The moment I’d set my guitar aside, she’d wail for her just-about-to-arrive mother.

Changing headsails and changing diapers aren’t all that different. Not if both are done with love.

Then we were back aboard Wild Card in Finike, where the marina was nearly deserted. Carolyn and I were finishing up yet another book, this one about Somali pirates and cruising yachtsmen. We work as a team. She does the research and editing, and I spew the words.

And then, suddenly, as if there’d been some prior agreement about exactly when spring sprung in Turkey, the fair-weather sailors started flooding back aboard. They brought with them new sails, new gear, and exciting new cruising plans. The air was filled with their bursting-with-happiness enthusiasm. Carolyn and I were both swept up in the contact high of their back-aboard joy. We, too, started scrubbing our decks on our hands and knees, hoisting our disused sails, and lubricating our roller furlers.

Carolyn tossed her trusty Pfaff sewing machine on deck and put a new window in our dodger and added new luff tape to both our headsails. I rewired the engine harness and lubed/flaxed the prop and rudder stuffing boxes.

We hauled Wild Card and slapped some paint on her bottom. We expect to sail 7,000 or 8,000 ocean miles this year. And a greater percentage of it than we’re used to will be to windward. Thus, a smooth, barnacle-free bottom is more important to us than ever.

Keeping with our policy of buying the cheap stuff where it’s cheap and using it where it’s expensive, we also renewed our galvanized chain here in Turkey. We’re planning to have a new headsail flown into duty-free Gibraltar. And while I was tinkering with engine issues, I rebuilt the alternator and swapped out the raw-water impeller.

Finally, our winter-in-Finike gang had a little going-away party for ourselves. We’d soon scatter to the four corners of Earth. And while we’ll probably never see most of them again, they’ll always have a warm place in our hearts. We’d grown to love and admire every single one.

When the first cruising boat sailed away from its winter hibernation, we all gathered at the end of the breakwater to cheer. Others followed. New transient vessels manned by strangers soon made their appearance.

And then it was May, and on the day that I was regreasing our anchor windlass, it was hot. I took off my shirt. Summer was definitely here. I gathered my tools and strolled aft to the cockpit, where Carolyn was fitting a new cover to our ancient horseshoe ring. "Time to go, babe," I said. "The Med awaits, and the Atlantic calls."
"Ready when you are," she replied with a smile.

I, too, smiled. We’ve sailed together as best friends, lovers, and spouses for 41 years now, and we’re both still ready, willing, and able. New horizons continue to beckon. Life aboard together is still very, very good.

As I went below to check the GRIBs and begin searching for a weather window for us to head to Greece, she stopped me with a single word. “Thanks,” she said softly.

“For what?” I asked.

"For this winter," she said dreamily. "For laughing through that hail storm. For the Med. For Amsterdam. I mean, I know you love the tropics and didn't want to—."
"I want to be anywhere you are," I said. "Always."

Carolyn bit her lip, blinked, and stared out over the waters. Then she bent to her sewing. I put away my tools. Once again, we prepared to go to sea.

For Cap'n Fatty and Carolyn Goodlander, a summer in the Greek Isles will give way to a westward sail through the Med on Wild Card.