Frostbiter

With about five hundred year-round residents, my wife’s town would not have even made it to neighborhood status in New York. I reminded myself of this whenever I was feeling snide. Lately, I felt snide lots. I was back in town to help the Cap’n winterize his 34-foot ketch Psyche. Doing this consisted of winterizing the engine, adding a heavy-duty rub rail to the waterline, and removing the sails. Then there was the task of loading up and rowing ashore all the “stuff” accumulated over the summer. It was that part that I hated the most. The Cap’n did not have an outboard engine on the skiff. I received lots of rowing practice in the spring, bringing all the stuff out and taking it ashore in the fall. The Cap’n spent his time at the chart table fussing over the old charts in his “collection.” My wife was busy helping her mother make room in the garage for all the stuff I was bringing for storage.
The Cap’n was what is called by sailors – a frostbiter. That’s a person who keeps sailing so late in the season that they can get frostbitten. But at this moment, the only one getting frosted was me as I rowed ashore in the upper thirties (Fahrenheit -it was the sixties folks!). The wind was out of the North. With every gust, I was reminded of a saying, ” Cold as a dog, and the wind Northwest.” Another of the little bits of English I had acquired on the coast.
After bringing the last load ashore, and lugging things up to the house, I was ready for a hot drink. But the Cap’n had other ideas. “Before we take the sails off, I think we should go for one last sail. Wind should be southwest tomorrow and fair.” My hands were red and sore, and my arms felt like rubber bands from all the hauling I had done, but the guy who spent most of his time stuffing his pipe full wanted to go sailing. My wife thought that Daddy and I going for one last sail was great. Of course, she intended on staying near the woodstove chatting with her mother.
The Cap’n had other ideas.” Well. I thought we’d make a family outing of it.” my wife replied: ” Well, Daddy, you know we’d love to, but all this packing for Florida won’t get done.” The Cap’n tamped his pipe, ” Nonsense, we’ll get an early start and be back in time for lunch.” Cora stopped her packing, shot a look at her daughter, who looked to me for support. I smiled and mentioned snidely that a family sail was just the thing. The return look was pure venom. There was a brief silence before Cora sighed and said that there was nothing in the house for lunch tomorrow, and she’d have to go over the harbor to shop. My wife looked glum. I would be on the couch that night.
The next day looked as though it would be the last genuinely fair day of fall before we fell off the edge into winter ice storms, snow, and cold. I decided that this might not turn out too bad, after all. We got off the mooring quickly enough on a jib and mainsail. After leaving the cove and the Gut behind, there was enough breeze for the mizzen and fore staysail. Cora had decided on a picnic lunch on board. The Cap’n seemed to be pleased with his ability to call the weather for a perfect morning sail. The views of the countryside on the coast were phenomenal.
Unusually for him, he restricted the number of barbs directed at the crew – me. Neither Cora nor my wife would typically touch a line or sail. So I’d get all the ” ‘ware your luff, Wes,” and ” bring her closer into the wind” sort of comments.
Around noon the wind shifted, and the water grew choppy. The Cap’n decided to call it quits with a dropping barometer and temperature and head back to the cove. There was just one problem; we were now beating into the wind. Our morning sail had been leisurely; we now worked hard in short tacks to gain ground towards the cove and our mooring. The crew worked hard tacking, shifting sails and hauling lines to get every bit of advantage from each tack. At last, with the mooring in view, the Cap’n decided to drop sail and motor in.
There was just one little problem. We had winterized the engine. The Cap’n looked chagrined but soon ordered me into the skiff to haul Psyche the last yards to the mooring. This I did, and soon we were rowing ashore.

Inconvenient, right? Yes, but remember what I said about this being a community of about five hundred year-round residents? We weren’t at the house long enough to brew tea before the Cap’ns brother Lyman called. What happened? Sure looked like a proper mess out there. It would have been best if you had radioed me. I would have fetched you to the mooring. That was what the Cap’n was hearing. Then came the real blow to the Cap’ns pride. ” Everybody in the cove is talkin’ bout it.” Small, small country town. There is nothing much to talk about except what your neighbors are doing. Then the prominent and stuck up Master Mariner in the cove pulls an idiot move. It flashes over town faster than a gasoline fire.

The Cap’n turned to look at me; I looked back. My wife looked unhappy, Cora departed to sort things out in the kitchen. Out came the pipe and tobacco pouch, fill, tamp, light, and puff. “Wes, why did you winterize the engine?” Snidely I replied to my father in law – “Because you asked me to Cap’n.”
The winter was peaceful. We heard nothing from Cora and the Cap’n other than a Christmas card. We did go up to check on the house and the boat a few times that winter. It must have been a very slow winter. Lyman said that the Cap’n was still a popular topic at the coffeeshop over to the harbor in January.

“Lo, how the mighty have fallen.”