Thursday, January 05, 2006

Ship to Shore, Part II

RECAP: When we last left our intrepid Chesapeake sailors, they were pulling into Ockohannock Creek, preparing for dinner and a pleasant night in the middle of the shallow inlet, and I was dismayed by the stench of the air around us, but it turned out to be John's crab trap...)

So the crabs will feast tonight on gamy bluefish steaks. I'm not too disappointed, being guaranteed more bluefish than I can eat in Woods Hole, and now there will be no disputes over how to prepare it.
We drop anchor in what appears to be solidly in the middle of the creek and Gordan sets about preparing lamburgers, spiced with his blend of cumin and coriander, to be grilled. The grill is hanging over the rail, and John prepped the coals to get the burgers ready. I'm below decks, slapping together a peanut-sesame dressing with chili oil and soy sauce and trying futilely to do something about the clutter born of the day's inertia, when I hear a splash and a stream of language to make a sailor blush. This can mean only one thing: Davy Jones wants a burger, too. Doom. Dooooooooooooooooom. I stay below (read: hide) until the oaths and the stomping subside. When they do, I venture up to comfort Gordan, who is describing the burger's descent as resembling "the face of a loved one disappearing beneath the waves". I don't understand why he insists on being a computer geek; he could easily make just as comfortable a living churning out novels of his choice of quality: from romances with raised lettering on the covers to high "hlitrature". He is so distraught by the loss that he overcooks the rest, which must be carefully divided so that no one is short. Fortunately, they were big to begin with, and the added spices keep them tasty.
For dessert Michael and Otto toss the last pieces of the mace cake on the grill, after I complain that I underbaked it and it's getting soggy. The smokiness and crisp exterior on the grilled pieces enhance its sweetness, and we gobble up the last bits.
After dinner we all sit chatting in the night. Michael begins to tell me about his little girl, Madison, and I watch his face glow as he describes her habits and quirks, likes and dislikes.
The night is so warm that I suggest a late-night swim. We all change and jump in, except for John who goes to bed. The water is pleasant, cool without being stinging, and when Otto cannonballs in, I notice that the water shines more than normal. Then I see little greeny glowy blobs when someone paddles over to a float: bioluminescence! Delighted, I call out for everyone to look at the comb jellies. They're harmless, I reassure everyone; in fact, they're fun to pick up and poke! Soon we discover that lifting hands out of water results in glowing squiggles running off our fingers, and treading water produces a blurry halo around our paddling hands and feet. I mention that we ought to play REM's "Nghtswimming" in honor of our plunge, and Brian obligingly climbs out to put on the CD. Soon we're swimming to soundtrack; we're far enough out that the noise shouldn't be a problem, although I know that sound carries far over water.
After 45 minutes or so of paddling around companionably, trying to stay attached to the float and lines Michael tossed out, we start getting cold, so we hoist ourselves out, dry off, and head to bed. The water, being brackish, becomes neither sticky like saltwater nor muddy-grimy like fresh lakewater as it dries on me. So I skip the shower and fall asleep, idly wondering what shape my now-soaked hair will take in the morning.

Day 6: Thursday

I'm hoping for a morning dip before we start out today, and I'm not disappointed. Ignoring the warnings about swimming after meals (after all, I have no fewer than five able-bodied lifeguards at my disposal, do I not?), Brian and I jump in after our eggs and French toast. Michael claims it's the best he's ever tasted, but he says that about a lot of my cooking, plus my hand slipped when I was adding the vanilla to his, so may have just gotten a big mouthful of alcohol. While on deck, I considered following Brian, who has struck out for the shore, but as soon as I hit the water I change my mind, for two reasons: first, because the shore, from water level, has revealed itself to be much farther than it looked on deck, and also because the tidal current is very, very strong, and it carries me up the inlet alarmingly fast. It requires concerted, though not strenuous effort to remain in safe proximity to the Maverick. I splash around for a while until Michael calls us aboard. Brian has decided to abandon his landfall expedition, and is floating on his back. He doesn't have an easy time of it with the current, and when he's finally aboard he flops onto his back and stays there for fifteen minutes recovering. Yikes.
We arrive at Tangier Island's harbor in mid-afternoon. The sun is high and strong and bright, and it turns the marsh grasses a vivid green and highlights the plum-and-beige trim of a Queen Anne-style house a spit far from any other buildings. I marvel that it survived Isabel, and wonder if it has electricity now, as it serves as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's regional headquarters.
Motoring up to the marina is comparable to driving along Main Street of a small town. The canal is lined with the residents' crab sheds, boats parked outside. All the boats are named for the watermen's wives, with first and middle names common to the generation just younger than my parents--the ones born solidly in the fifies and early sixties: the Donna Marie, the Linda Joy, the Mary Barbara. One, though, is named the Mariah Cheyenne, and I decide that that must be someone's daughter. All the names are painted on in the same light and dark blue wavy script. It seems like a sweet ritual: coming of age in this little place, getting married, acquiring a boat and a wife on the same day, couples beaming giddily at each other when the name is painted on.
We tie up at the slip closest to the dock, and conduct business (pumpout, water, fuel) with Mr. Parks, the owner of the marina. He is probably no more than sixty, but one could be forgiven for placing him at eighty-five or over. Barrel-chested, with a shock of white hair and skin like shoe leather, he chats with us about his children, Baltimore's Inner Harbor before it was cleaned up, and the cost of keeping a car in Crisfield for monthly trips to the mainland (on the island, they use golf carts and the occasional light pickup). Being sailors, we are treated with more genuine warmth than I suspect the day-trippers off the boats are, and he seems anxious to have us know that the island is not dying, as Smith seems to be. Tangier children have their own school, K-12, and even though the crabs are small and scarce, half the young people stay on-island.
We stroll through the narrow streets, admiring the old frame houses and tidy gardens. The residents ignore us for the most part, zooming hither and yon on their bikes and golf carts. All of the heavy men and women are driving, and all the trim ones are pedaling or walking...
Most of the gift shops are closed for 2 hours in the afternoon, unfortunately for us, although no one is in the market for souvenirs. We pass a white chapel with a square steeple, read the names naming those who performed military service (quite a few, since the Army is a good escape from here, should one feel the need), and stare at the graves in tiny plots of high ground. They appear to be coffins encased in or covered with slabs. Some of them are very small.
Ambling through the narrow streets, we can hear the natives' bizarre accents. When selling us soda or giving directions, their patois resembles most rural Mid-Atlantic ones, but when speaking to each other they are almost unintelligible, a thick Irish brogue by way of Deliverance.
We start scouting for a place for dinner and find a charming eating house, but discover that they serve unusually early and we have missed it at 5:30. So we head back for the boat and pick a seafood place for dinner and Sparky's soda fountain for dessert.
One of the advantages of being the only wench on the boat is that I don't have to wait for the showers. I'm very hot, but it's not the wiped-out torpor that comes from oppressive humidity. The cold water pounds on my head, and it's so soft I have to scrub hard to get all the soap off. I feel slimy but cool afterwards. I comb my hair down flat, pull on a shirt with buttons, a skirt, and a necklace. They feel almost alien after a week of shorts and tees.
Scrubbed and sunburned, we join other boaters, tourists, honeymooners, and one local couple on a date at the restaurant. Everything is fried, but it's local, and we tuck into its crispy brown goodness with relish. Afterwards we straggle to Sparky's, a sweet little ice cream parlor stuffed with '50s kitsch. I offer up ice cream as my treat and it's enthusiastically welcomed. It's still warm, so it's refreshing after all the oil.
Back on deck it hits us that this is our last night out. Tomorrow we will be in the Solomon's Island Naval Recreation Center docks, and I will leave my crew after dinner to make it to David's wedding on Saturday. We break out wine and some cookies, sit on deck and enjoy the night and the many cats who visit, especially Baby (named for her cry) who makes several stowaway attempts.

Day 7: Friday

We're up and out of Tangier with nary a hitch. The trip is long but not difficult, and Gordan and Otto and I lie out on deck in the sun. Brian teaches me a little more sailcraft when they hoist the sails, but mostly we all relax.
We pull into the Solomon's Island docks in mid-afternoon. Like the OC marina, this is a new setup, but rather prettier, surrounded by vegetation, and a good deal smaller. We tie up and hop off to collect ice and booze now that were back in civilization. I have phoned my mother to give her directions and get an ETA, and then climb up the bank to join the expedition. We reigister at the office with a wiseass clerk whom I can't imagine in uniform. He gives us a ride and sympathizes with the boys about having me along for the trip; he can barely stand a 5-minute car ride. I like my smart mouth.
Mom arrives only a little late, with Pokey in tow. She charms everyone right off the bad (naturally!), chatting with John about greyhounds and grandchildren (surprisingly similar), and rescuing Otto from certain death on the highway. He was nearly killed crossing the interstate to get to the liquor store, so he clambers gratefully into the car with his cases.
The Naval Recreation Center, or what we see of it, is extensive and expansive. For some reason, they offer yurts as one of the housing options.
While Gordan bustles about with his goulash, Mom admires the boat, which Michael is only too happy to show off. Pokey is less impressed, pacing and fretting when we lift her aboard and finally has to be settled on the dock with her towel.
Gordan makes a pitcher of mojitos to carry up to the picnic table, but first we have to take a picture, complete with the flotilla banner (burgee? bergie? berjee?). Then it's chowtime. Mom is enchanted with the boatmaker Jenneau-insignia tableware, but what goes in them--perfect mojitos, fresh salad and rich, spicy goulash--is even better. We have a lively meal, trading jokes and stories, and I hold these moments close, knowing they are running out.
At last, the last of the goulash is scraped out, the mojitos are drained, the sun almost disappeared. We can delay our departure no longer. I still haven't adjusted to the land; I can walk fine, but if I stand for too long my body compensates for pitch and roll that isn't there. I don't want to have to step into a car instead of a boat, don't want to leave the sea behind.
I hug each of my shipmates in turn, thanking them for, well, everything. The mosquitoes have come out to feast, the dog is getting restless, and I know I can't linger.
Mom and I have a nice catchup session on the long way home. It's near midnight when we pull in.
While I have been on the sea, summer has come and come to stay. Even in the dark I can see that the garden has grown a mile, and the bricks underfoot have that damp, mossy feel from night watering and high humidity. Inside, the kitchen is stuffy and bright. It's bigger than the galley and cabin, minus the staterooms. It feels huge. Tiptoeing through dining room, living room, library, I get the same feeling I got when I returned from Japan, that our house is much too huge for just three people. I slip upstairs, catch my father just before he falls asleep, and sink into a bed that doesn't rock or sway for the first time in days. I fall asleep and dream of waves, wine and sail.

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