Winter isn’t budging, and neither are the seacocks. You might think a renaissance man like my partner, Capt. Rick Martell, who’s spent a good deal of his seven decades on Earth in the great outdoors — whether deep in the woods or aloft on the high seas — would have sniffed the air and taken the hint and saved himself the trouble.
But he didn’t. On one of the seemingly endless frigid Saturdays in Rhode Island in winter 2014, the good skipper hopped in the truck and headed from Newport north to Hinckley Yacht Services in Portsmouth, in a gallant attempt to tick off one of many items on the to-do list for the Swan 57 Flyer.
The cutter-rigged sloop is on the hard outside at Hinckley. That in and of itself is no big deal, but the fact that the boat’s got a new owner across the pond and a timetable to shove off in June with the final destination of Brittany, France, is.
“The boat’s been there for three years,” Rick reminded me. “There’s quite a bit to do. It’s going to be so much easier when it’s in the water.” Removing, regrinding, or lapping, greasing and reinstalling the four bronze tapered cone seacocks was supposed to be a start. But the square studs on the inboard ends of the cones didn’t budge, and whether the cold or the hiatus from use is to blame, a session with a wrench or a sledgehammer was in order.
Which involved another session: climbing back down the ladder and grabbing the right tools. By now, Old Man Winter was winning, the skipper’s hands were raw and his spirits were sinking. “Don’t come out,” he said when I phoned. “It’s freezing. It’s too damn cold.”
So, instead of heading to the boat to help with the chores, I turned my attention back to sizing up some new offshore foul weather gear at the Team One Newport store in town.
I’m about as overdue for a new set of sturdy foulies as I am for a transatlantic passage. My liveaboard days in New England and in the Caribbean were full of deliveries long and short, but as time passed and I returned stateside, the memories mellowed and the details got lost (along with a few of the skills). That wish I fostered so strongly back then, of sailing a few thousand nautical miles, was nearly forgotten. Besides, given the plethora of award-winning tales of gripping sea voyages I’m immersed in through the contributors to Cruising World, could you blame me?
One thing’s certain: I can blame this miserable winter of 2014 for the reminder. That’s why I’m excited — and a tad terrified — that in 2014 I’m knocking those two items off the bucket list, for I’ll join Rick and become part of the Flyer crew for the entirety of the bluewater adventure.
While I have my colleagues at the magazine to thank for the green light, there’s a personality surely less known to old salts who gets a heavy does of gratitude from me, a character who pulled herself — and me, along the way — up and out from the depths of life’s predictable events (like shoveling snow and ice) to the excitement and the risk that comes when you tackle enduring dreams.
Mrs. Emily Pollifax, author Dorothy Gilman’s central character in a series of mystery novels, is an elderly widow who frees herself from the despondency of reading circles, garden clubs, and hospital volunteering and leaps to a heart-stopping roller-coaster ride of a life after hilariously sweet talking the CIA into letting her be a spy.
My introduction to Mrs. Pollifax came on one of those dreary yet fateful afternoons Old Man Winter hands out so well. I was driving Newport, running errands, listening to Studio 360 on NPR. In that show, a nurse who’d always dreamed of becoming a doctor explained how The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax inspired her to take the formidable leap. So great was the pull of the novel that the nurse-turned-doctor (whose tale in and of itself is pretty moving) gives copies out to anyone she meets who’s ripe for a new life challenge.
This undoubtedly was a directive from On High. I immediately bought the e-book version, downloaded it on to my Kindle, and dug in. The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax is a gripping tale, full of page-turning twists. The climax – surprise! – occurs as Mrs. Pollifax is square at the helm of a sailboat. I should have known.
Gilman penned 14 novels in the Pollifax series. I better get busy and start downloading. A month at sea is the perfect setting to find out what’s going to happen to me next. God bless you, Emily Pollifax, and your creator, too.