Cribbage, Lights List and Coastal Pilot

The broken cribbage board and the Coast Pilot Take me back to the days when I learned to “Hand, Reef, and Steer” aboard the 34-foot ketch Psyche. The lovely thing about the ketch rig is that you have a wide choice of sails and sail configurations. Pick the right combo, and the boat will “wing on wing” before light air leaving you to enjoy the sail. The less fun part of the ketch rig is gaining the experience to choose correctly. The knight in the Indiana Jones movie said – “Choose, but choose wisely.”

Among my duties aboard were to swing the lead line, go forward on a heaving foredeck to take in jibs, reef, steer under the Cap’ns instructions, and heave the anchor up ( no, no capstan chanteys). I also mess cooked, went for ice, was first off with the lines, and had a plethora of additional duties. Look, I was chief cook, bottle washer, mate and buffet server.

At night I was required on demand to play cribbage with the Cap’n. Playing cribbage was not an optional duty. His daughter, my first wife, was not thrilled by the game, and thus, I was required to play. I developed a robust distaste for the game. And that’s why the broken cribbage board will stay that way. 

I’d like you to consider that for many years I could not recall the name of the game or could not force it past my lips. I still can’t remember the rules. Only in recent years have I been able to push those two syllables past my lips. I do not consider this a detriment, because by now you have realized that I loathe the game.

The Cap’n didn’t want to talk. He didn’t want to play some other reasonable sailor’s game:

  • No Acey-Ducey.
  • Cheaters Monopoly ( and I don’t mean the wimpy civilian version).
  •  Or Craps.

He wanted to play cribbage, night after night after night.

One night on deck, the question arose about identifying the navigational lights we saw from the various lighthouses along the coast. That conversation lead to my introduction to the Lights List and Notices to Mariners. The next day the Cap’n introduced me to the Coast Pilot, a publication that lists important information for mariners regarding the harbors and waterways along the coast.

Over the next two trips, the Cap’n pulled out his worn 1941 edition of Bowditch, a sexton, sight reduction tables, and away we went. I eventually got good enough that I did not calculate our position as somewhere near Washington, D.C., when we were near Sequin.

All these instructions gave me a solution to the cribbage problem. I found that if I begged off playing because I had to study the Coastal Pilot or Lights List, my wife had to play cribbage with the Cap’n. Unfortunately, this “evasion of my duties” didn’t help my deteriorating marriage . 

Things came to a head just before I left to return to school one summer. I played my educational card once too often and got accused of selfish behavior. Too damn true! I self-righteously refused to give up my navigational studies for mere cribbage. I maintained that I was taking the high road to self-improvement. My wife seeing through my ploy, clocked me with the cribbage board. That night I played cribbage.

Somehow when we separated, the broken cribbage board wound up in one of my boxes. It went undiscovered for years but gradually found its way into one of the family game boxes; forgotten.

A few weeks ago, Matilda and I visited Shelbourne Falls with a few of our kids. In one of the used bookstores, I found this copy of the Coast Pilot, and all the memories came pouring forth: Psyche, my first marriage coming undone, piloting, navigation, and of course, cribbage.

I am reminded of an anonymous quote: A smooth sea never made a skillful mariner. However, I hope by now that I am at least somewhat skilled in life, if not too wise.

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