Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Ship to Shore

Now that I'm not around these days, I absolutely MUST be better at posting. Having shirked my responsibilities as a blogger through most of the summer, putting up place-holder posts with little to no information, and being more or less off the grid while up north for 3 weeks, I have now attempted to remedy the situation by posting the much-awaited (by some) travelogue of my weeklong circumnavigation of the DelMarVa Peninsula by sail, in its entirety. Hopefully this'll keep everyone busy while I try to chronicle my arrival and the beginning of my adventures in California.
NB: I'm going to skip boring you with my annual vacation to Woods Hole because all I did was work at the bakery and frolic on the beach, and the highlights of my New York trip are thus: I saw Lance Armstrong and Cheryl Crow at Da Silvano in the Village, and Lindsay Lohan at a hole-in-the-wall Japanese ink-painting "school"; I lost precipitously at poker (I, who have been playing since I was old enough to hold my cards up and not shriek with glee at my hand!), and I spent most of the rest of the time seeking air conditioning, because I don't think it went below 80 degrees, day or night, the entire time I was there.

Now that we're all up to speed, let's jump back to June, shall we?


Day .5: Friday

Gordan finally arrives after 2 days of frantic hellish baking--largely successful, although one tube of almost paste was rocklike, the biscuits are a complete wash and I had to hand-feed the food processor with ground chicken and raw eggs like it was some hideous mechanical baby bird. We get to Annapolis in damp pitch-dark and unload all the food. The car smells like a grocery store all the way down and Gordan is fussy about where to put it all for the five-minute trip through the marina to the boat. Silly, I thought, until I saw that the path had a nasty little hill, and that maneuvering a handcart full of fruit (heavy) is NOT easy.
The boat, the Maverick, is smaller than I expected but everything, is of course, cleverly stowed and organized. The main cabin is lovely: amber honey-colored wood with strips of blondwood between the floorboards, lockers all around, a banquette that seats six people, and a tiny but fully stocked galley. The staterooms are fore and aft. The fore cabin is belongs to the captain and his father. It comes to a point at the bow, of course, and it's lined with lockers. The aft cabin is cavelike, with a large overhang two feet into the room. Both cabins are mostly bed with a little storage. We stow our gear along the wall, and I hope it doesn't bash into me in high seas.
We meet Michael, the captain, and Brian, the navigator. It turns out we don't have any dry ice. This is a problem; food goes bad distressingly fast at sea. Maybe we can obtain some tomorrow. The rest of the crew, Otto and John, Michael's father,
arrive and there is a little We sleep on the boat, rocking in a most soothing, safe-harbor/womb way.


Day 1: Saturday

We overslept! It's almost 10 AM when we emerge, groggily, from the stateroom. It's cloudy and calm, so we motor out and away. The sun peeks through a little bit around the Bay Bridge to be that perfect pearl-clear light I love. Then it clouds over all iron and gray to port and blue to starboard. Gordan and I grill sausages and peppers, and people have been stuffing cookies in their mouths all day. I beam with maternal pride.
There is nothing to do under motor except steer, and even then there's an auto-pilot. After lunch we sit and talk, and Michael gives me a book on sailing for women and some pointers on seasickness and the basics of sailing. I read these over and then spend two or three hours napping in my cabin. No one wakes me up. The stateroom is directly over the motor (actually, parts of it are right in the cabin, behind one of the lockers), and I try not to think about what it's doing to my hearing.
We pull into a marina for fuel and to spend the night. In the restaurant before dinner. John and I discuss Elvis and Japan with gusto while Gordan and Michael slaughter each other in pool. Gordan misses a sucker shot on the 8-ball, but wins the game--barely. The dress code runs heavily to t-shirts, old jeans, comfy shoes, hairspray, and tattoos. After today's effortless trip I begin to wonder if I'll ever learn to sail, or if I'll just read and sleep all the way down the coast. I haven't felt the slightest bit queasy yet, even while reading.
It's 10 PM before we finally sit down to kabocha (a type of Japanese pumpkin-squash), chicken and cornbread. It's a hit. Afterwards we all slob about, cracking jokes and watching John polish off the cranberry-walnut tart that Brian brought and that I had to beg people to eat after my meal. Gordan and I walk under the stars for a while to digest, and sleep comes easy.


Day 2: Sunday

This morning I'm up early to see the morning, misty and moist. We leave the marina and motor up to another one for showers. It's warm enough, even at 9AM, to change into my new bikini, the first I've ever owned. Of course I slather on the sunscreen; I know just how strong sun on the water can be.
The day stays hazy and pale. We try to shake out the sails, but give up after an hour or so. Too bad, because I enjoy the quiet respite from the motor.
Brunch! Nice and greasy, egg bacon and parm paninni with red pepper soup. A frantic search for the St. Andre to top them yielded nothing. Gordan suspects foul play at his office. After lunch, naps and sunburn. We've left the bay and inlets and are in much more open water now. Salem Nuclear Facility is ominously visible and never seems to move.
There seems to some back-and-forth among the crew about where (or if) we will dock for the night. I find the radio chatter frustratingly obscure. I wish I could be instantly knowledgeable, or at least au courant.
Brian and Michael attempt to use the sails again, with some luck. But we hit the midday doldrums and it's back to the motor. I don't mind; I like the speed and the swells, the boat dancing along in wakes, but the noise is stressful. Brian and Otto nap. John and Michael and Gordan jaw on deck. I read the Triangle, Drexel's student newspaper (barely edited: "Commencement" is misspelled in inch-high type above the fold). John untangles his rod and reel and trolls for a while. Gordan and I drowse under the boom until John hollers that he's caught something! He loses it, but we're in the middle of a bluefish feeding convention, and they're flopping everywhere. But who do you think has to teach these boys how to cast and reel, to watch the birds, and even how to kill the fish that we finally manage to hook? Me, that's who. (for the record,my preferred method involves a ball-peen hammer with the fish on a paper bag.)
The fish we've landed is 12 inches, but we have hopes for more. Sadly, though, we only manage the one, despite cutting the engine and drifting in a circle for almost an hour.
All the lazing about results in a late dinner, again. We've decided to stay in Ocean City, MD for the night, so Michael kicks up the motor and requests dinner by dark. It's my turn again, this time with chicken meatball kebabs on a bed of spinach, and bamboo rice. I can barely honor Michael's deadline, because the damn water won't boil. When it's finally served, though, everyone is highly complimentary again, despite the staggered courses and the divided dining topsides and in the cabin.
It has whipped up a little, and I find preparing food in a bobbing galley somewhat nauseating. I pop a Dramamine and a few ginger capsules, which control the collywobbles, but the former knocks me out cold as we motor through the evening. I doze on Gordan's lap on deck and then crawl back below decks to drool on the banqette until we arrive at our slip.
The OC marina is brand-new and large. The pilings are still green the planks still sharp and fresh. The showers are gleaming and expansive but half a mile away. Gordan and I pad along, past hundreds of boats, a cafe, and a spotless fish-cleaning station, to wash off the salt spray and sunblock before bed. Drunk on Dramamine, we drop off immediately,


Day 3: Monday

Apparently, Norfolk can be reached after dark , so we hang around OC for the morning. Michael and I take the dinghy to Assateague Island with Brian and Gordan in kayaks.
Assateague puts me in mind of Sippewissett Beach on Cape Cod. We're at low tide, so the whole beach is mucky and rotten-smelling. Sandpipers scamper up and down the banks, and ospreys and gulls and big, black-capped terns glide over the water, blood-warm and ankle-deep. But best of all, we see the ponies.
A little inland, around a salt pool, is a clump of shaggy brown ponies. A few chestnuts, some odd blondes--not palaminos, but with brown coats and straw-colored manes and tails--and a pinto are grazing, 8 mares and a stallion. I think the pinto is pregnant. They may all be pregnant, or they may just be round-barreled. They are concerned by our presence but not spooked. The stallion plays lookout, swishing his tail and tossing his head to make his harem amble out of our range. Still, they're close enough for great pictures. We also beachcomb for moon snails, live whelks that we chuck back into the water (despite Gordan's musings about how to best prepare them) and many dead ones, razor clams in perfect paired condition, horseshoe crab exoskeletons and one enormous dead skate. I show off my Woods Hole wisdom, quizzing about whelk and skate egg cases and answering all manner of questions. It feels good to have some knowledge to offer in exchange for the mysteries of sailing. Brian is especially inquisitive. He and I fumble with the dinghy all the way back to he Marina--it won't start so we have to row--while Gordan and Michael kayak effortlessly.
After a quick rinse-off, we shove off and organize watches. I am on the 8-12 with Michael, and I'm very relieved. It's easy, not too late at night, and I'm with the most experienced of the crew. However, it's rough and choppy all the way out and threatens storm.
The boys continue to wolf down my cookies as if I had laced them with cocaine, so it's hours before anyone thinks of food and we enjoy Gordan's coconut-ginger-pumpkin soup at the improbable hour of 4:30. I think. I have no watch or clock on this trip, out of both fear of loss or breakage and because I see no need for it. Most pleasant.
Gordan is on at 4-8, and again at 4-8 in the morning so he stays topsides with John and steers, while I head below to nap before I'm on at 8. The boat is pitching and rolling constantly now; serving the soup was an excellent simulation practice should I ever need to serve the homeless while drunk. Of course we're serving the most impractical meal on this, the bumpiest night so far. Fortunately not much is slopped around.
I hate sleeping with the motor on now. The whole cabin shudders and roars. One of the things I failed to bring or buy when ashore, along with soap and lip balms, was earplugs, and I sorely need them now. It's like trying to sleep during a rock concert. But I awaken just before 8, so I must have drifted off sometime.
Gordan arrives to wake me up, dripping and cold, announcing that the foul weather has only worsened, so I pull on all my warm clothes: jeans, socks, wool Navy blouse, fleece and windbreaker. I climb to the deck with apprehension.
He wasn't kidding. It's wild, windy, chill and ROUGH. I stagger to the benches and concentrate very hard on the horizon over the two-foot swells and the crazily seesawing prow. The sunset it pretty, and for a while I enjoy the salty wind and the bumpy pitch that reminds me of Nina's boat. But it begins to get dark and no less rough, and I'm getting nervous. It doesn't help that Brian emerges from the nav station where he's been monitoring the weather and mutters something in Michael's ear while gesturing at a printout. I catch the words "70-mile-an-hour winds", and images of _The Perfect Storm_ creep into my anxious brain.
I sit for four hours in the cold and damp with an occasional blast of spray when the boat hits a wave the wrong way. One thing to be glad of: the seawater on my face is always warm. At 70 degrees, this is not water you die in. If I fall overboard, it won't be hypothermia that gets me.
Brian and Otto on the 12-4 watch come up to keep us company. Brian brings a peppery, succulent salmon jerky he picked up at Trader Joe's. One moment he's digging into the bag as I make appreciative yummy sounds about it. The next, he's flung it across the deck to me and diving for the stern. I can't hear him, but Michael's rueful smile and good-natured thump on the back confirms that acute nausea has come up on him faster than I though possible. I hand over a towel that was used when Gordan lost his pumpkin soup on his watch whilst concentrating too hard on tying something to the boom, and in a minute Brian is back, smiling apologetically and reaching not quite as eagerly for the jerky again.
Michael goes below for something, and I take the helm. The difference between sitting on the side and actually being behind the wheel grows on me quickly. Taking readings every half hour (time, speed, GPS, bearings and windspeed) from the various meters and displays on the console makes me feel like a pro, and maybe this sailing thing isn't so hard or scary after all. The boys and I laugh and talk through the wind, the rocking and the occasional spurt of lightning. Between our companion boat, the _Sales Call_ up front and the land to starboard, I feel safe enough that the panic subsides.
But I'm stiff and cold, and exhausted, though not sleepy, from vigilance. When it's midnight I'm glad to get up, stretch, and head below to sleep. We haven't been staying up late, so far. John turns in soon after dinner, and the rest of us (occasionally aided by Dramamine) shuffle off early too, mindful of the hard work and alertness that days require. I brush teeth, peel off my thick layers, and crawl in. The cabin is dreadfully loud, worse than an airplane. The night is fitful; I am awakened by the the incessant thrumming intend on grinding through my skull. I am lulled by it to the brink of rest and then dragged back. It is by turns supremely disturbing and strangely soothing. I cna't escape it and I don't sleep well.


Day 4: Tuesday

I'm awakened by the announcement that Norfolk is sighted and we will be there soon. Everyone looks cheerful and relieved that the worst is over. The storm has vanished; the new sky is thin, pale blue, already hazy, with a warm wind.
The approach to Norfolk is smooth and calm. There are "warships" in the distance, on either side (apparently, all naval vessels, even the training dinghies, are now being referred to as "warships"). I ask John how this is possible, as we are not, technically, at war with anyone. I expect a lengthy seminar on war in general, the Geneva Convention protocols, the rules of engagement, and the psychological implications of nomenclature as they relate to the power of suggestion, as my father would have launched into, but John just shrugs and says something about Navy boys getting ahead of themselves before turning back to his lines. Ah, vacation. We hear the Navy chatter on the radio and see the amphibious lanches coming out to meet one of the ships to our port side.
We pull into the large marina along with the _Vixen_ and the Sales Call, our companion ships. After we've settled in Gordan and I climb the hill to the guest area to shower and do laundry. The day is shaping up to be hot, and appraising glances are cast at the small swimming pool across the street. We chat with a woman from the _Vixen_ as our clothes dry and learn a little about racing sailboats. I think I'll stick with just sailing for the moment, no finish line necessary.
We head back to the boat to return the clean clothes and change for a swim. Everyone is asleep in the air-conditioned calm, worn out from the night before. Gordan and I splash around in the gorgeously cold water of the otherwise deserted pool. Fearful of the effects of chlorine on hennaed hair, I don't submerge completely, but it's still refreshing. I discover that the cute little belt on my bikini creates so much drag on the bottom half it feels as through it will shear off. It comes off and goes around my head instead. Once we're cooled off the air seems chillier, and the sun has disappeared. Gordan and I go for lunch at the restaurant, which is quietly attended but loudly decorated with flamingoes, leis, floridly painted stuffed fish, and a mannequin torso with shell bra and thick lipstick. I order a bleu cheese burger. Brian joins us; he was trying to catch a cab to the grocery store but missed it, so he kills time with us while awaiting the next one. We finish, Brian catches his cab, and we slip back down to the boat for our own nap.
The evening brings cool air, but also mosquitoes. Gordan sets about making pierogi and heating up his paprikash. I try to play sous-chef but find it difficult, due to the mess generated by 5 guys in a small space for days. The nght's chaos and the long naps have only promoted the entropy. We eat on deck in the hazy evening, savoring the juicy, tender chicken and the spicy broth against thick, satisfying dumplings. Afterwards I bring out the mace cake and strawberries. Even lacking whipped cream, it garners praise, as does the rest of the meal. We make a good cook team, G and I.
Someone else insists on doing the cleanup, as usaual, so Gordan and I lounge on deck, chatting, as people wander below and off the boat. The sun throws out shots of pink and orange into the sky as it sets, and for a few minutes the boats are aglow and the water looks like one big organic oil slick.
Michael has been seized by the desire to watch, of all things, _The Perfect Storm_. Perhaps he finds it reassuring. Or something. In any case, I can only bear to watch up until the part where they decide to head home, so as not to lose their catch to the broken icemaker. It's late, anyway.


Day 5: Wednesday

Morning is as hazy and torpid as yesterday. We motor over to the filling station for fuel, leaving Gordan and Brian to fetch more groceries. We pick them up on the way out (Gordan acts as if we were planning to leave him there). We serve beer and cheddar crackers once we're underway. I feel out of sorts, nauseated and listless all day. Perhaps it's the stress and tire of Monday night catching up to me. I loll, relax, do nothing, but it does no good. I only recover after a nap, when we're pulling into Ackahannock (sp?) Creek. The sun is setting and the sky shows more color than it has all day. The creek is very shallow, so Michael sends Gordan and Brian in the dinghy to take soundings. The keel is 5 feet deep, so we need at least that much to keep from running aground, but some patches of the creek aren't even knee-deep. The guys get good at their job, Gordan plunging his gaff like a Polynesian fisherman spearing things, Brian deftly maneuvering the dinghy. We do run aground once, but Michael says there are only two kinds of sailors: those who have run aground and those who lie about it.
Once we're sure of the passage, Michael brings the dinghy crew back and we breeze up the creek. Perched on the port bow, I can smell the lovely cedar-and-salt scent of the evening, like the bath at a rural Japanese inn, but every few minutes there's a terrible, poopy stench. I was hoping for a swim, either tonight or tomorrow, or both, but not if the water appears to contain E. coli. Disappointment along with a general despair for the state of the Bay take over until John says something about his crab trap. Turns out he's baited it with the rotting remains of the one bluefish we caught on Sunday. Gordan filleted and then forgot about it until it was too late.

1 comment:

Gordan said...

Thank you for your vivid and detailed account of what is surely a highlight among my recent memories. (A casual inventory of these highlights reveals that you are featured in a disquietingly large portion of them.) With the exception of the tragic loss upon Ockahannock Creek (teaser for part two), there is not a thing about our journey that I would change, including the trying parts.

One correction, however: in an uncharacteristic fit of understatement, you've done great injustice to the swells we encountered (and to Brian's and my gastric fortitude, such as it was.) According to the general consensus, they were easily between three and four times the two feet you estimated. I can testify to the lightning speed with which events unfold once the battle with nausea is lost, having not even had the chance to start for the railing. The results have made me wonder whether there has ever been an avant garde performance artist whose act consisted of ingesting brightly hued paint and then projectile vomiting it upon a canvas. I'm half-tempted to search the web for references to such a performance. Thankfully, only Otto had a perfect vantage point to observe my own act, and I'm sure that he had done something in his life for which this was fitting punishment.