bad coffee

What do you complain about the most?

Griping about things is part of being a sailor. I discovered this from my father, a Merchant Marine engineer, and had it confirmed while in the Navy. Griping as an art form was re-affirmed to me while working in the marine trades as a carver and catch as can boatyard worker.
Griping is not necessarily pejorative of other people. We don’t just complain about the bosun, the carpenter, the skipper, or the boat owner. We complain about the food, weather, and workloads. But, of course, a cherished area of complaint is coffee. We can complain about coffee until the third pot of the day is downed, and the thought of another cup will make us bilious.

OK, I’ll say it – take any random sampling of castaway sailors on a desert island with nothing to eat but coconuts, and their biggest complaint will be the lack of coffee. When they get tired of griping about no coffee, they’ll move on to the lousy coffee they’ve had. After exhausting that, they’ll move on to bad chow, the rotten bunks they had to sleep in, the worst liberty ports they visited, and then the miseries of being at sea in heavy weather.
Regardless of political orientation, they’ll rage on all evening about this stuff until they are exhausted and sleep. Then, the lack of coffee will start the day rolling in the morning.

I hate to side with the officer class, having worked for a living myself, but the continual griping is why it’s crucial to keep sailors of any sort busy. Let them sit around and get bored, and the complaints start.
Maybe that is the reason for all the rotten coffee? Give the apes something to gripe about that’s safe.
Rats! I make my own coffee. It’s unfair that I can only complain to myself.

Yankee Stoicsm

January, as I say every year, is my least favorite month. I celebrate its passing. But it’s a valuable month if you make it so. Whether it’s laying plans for the garden, working on new carving initiatives, or making those long winter nights come alive by reading about topics that interest you, it passes and promotes new value. Because it’s a slow-paced month, you’re a fool not to take the opportunity to use it to recharge a bit.

I hate to say it, but if January did not exist, I might have to invent it. I shudder thinking about it in a week with three snowstorms.

So I try to keep busy this month. But there is a wayward part of me that wants to be away from January in New England – enough Yankee Stoicism already! I want to dance on the beaches! Wet my toes in the tide! Boogie under the tropical moon, and watch the flying fish off the starboard bow of my ketch. Running around my head, this entire month has been old sea chanteys. Earworms about hauling up and sailing away.

 This one in particular:

Rolling down to Old Maui, me boys

Rolling down to Old Maui

We’re homeward-bound from the Arctic ground

Rolling down to Old Maui.

Once more we sail with a northerly gale

Through the ice and wind and rain.

Them coconut fronds, them tropical lands

We soon shall see again.

Our stu’n’s’l bones/booms is carried away

What care we for that sound?

A living gale is after us,

Thank God we’re homeward bound.

Chorus

We’ll heave the lead where old Diamond Head

Looms up on old Wahu.

Our masts and yards are sheathed with ice

And our decks are hid from view.

The horrid ice of the sea-caked isles

That deck the Arctic sea

Are miles behind in the frozen wind

Since we steered for Old Maui.

A well, back to work; sigh.

Kin?

Family history can rear a gruesome head these days of DNA testing. Things come out. Items can no longer be hidden. And somber truths about ancestors are revealed. That idiot tenth cousin of yours who starts emailing you from Estonia wanting to know about common ancestors. The person from Alabama who asks if you’d host your 3rd cousins twice removed on their visit to the Boston area. Perhaps one should never have spit into the little vial, after all?
In my family’s case, it cleared up some mysteries by solidifying historical and genealogical research I’d already done. The Carreras family; seamen, jewelers, and merchants from Catalonia; in my specific family, that meant Girona, and the record of Louis’, Nicholas’, and Josep’s ( or Jose) stretched further back than I could research.

Bur most records for my mother’s little Caribean island were destroyed in a hurricane. Birth, death, marriage, and baptismal records were scarce. Here is where things get interesting. The island tradition has it that all the Robinsons were descended from a first mate on a ship in Morgan’s privateering fleet. On the way to the sack of Panama City, they took over the island as a base. On the way home Robinson decided to settle and raise a family there.
A little further research came up with the gem that the original colony had been founded by the second ship sent out by the same company that sent the Pilgrims to Cape Cod. But, in this case, they went way south, and those Puritans went bad; rapidly. They become the neer-do-wells of the Puritan faith. They actively engaged in piracy and other disreputable affairs.

I advocate paying less attention to DNA and more to the dastardly deeds of our ancestors. It’s actually a hell of a lot more interesting. It’s not how far back your family goes, but how interesting they are…or in the case of my mother’s family – Arrrr Mate

Hand, Reef and Drive?

This might sound like a brag, but it’s not. I could hand, reef, and steer a boat for a long time before learning how to drive a car.

Well, I was a real New York City boy. For any place I needed to go, I went by public transportation. Within the Five Boroughs, It was easier to hop on a subway, bus, or walk than drive there. Yes, my family had a car, but that was mostly for weekend use if my father wanted to go somewhere. So the family car was just that. It wasn’t something that my father would have lent me. For my generation of city boys, I was not an outlier.

What was unusual was that I still did not learn to drive after leaving the city. I did not fall to my knees and adore the auto, review my transportation needs anew, or anything like that. Instead, I went by thumb, bike, foot, or other means of transport.

By thumb, I found my merry way across the continent, up and down the coasts. I visited every nook and cranny I wanted in the sixties and seventies by the same method. But, it was not until 1981 that I got a driving license and bought a car.
Now I know that some of you are saying, ” that’s just weird!” But It was the situation that existed.

So how was it that I hand, reefed, and steered before driving? Marriage. My first wife was from a very tiny coastal community, actually an island, in the mid-coast. We met and wooed in Portland, Maine. And while we dated, it was easy to fall into her driving us around in her zippy little sports car. After we married, her father, a retired Merchant Marine captain, saw the advantage of having a new hand on board his thirty-four-foot ketch, Psyche.

In the ensuing years, I learned to handle and reef sails, steer a course, and generally care for a boat. If I needed to “go over town” to shop, I took the skiff, motored across the bay, tied up at the town wharf, and shopped. If I was working at a boatyard, I biked over.
When not on the coast, I attended university in Boston, using public transportation from the university to the public sailing program on the Charles River.

After my divorce, I lived inland “on the hard” in Philadelphia but got around very well on public transportation. When I moved back to the Boston area, I reluctantly took up driving due to my job and career.

There were a few problems; the steering wheel was unlike a tiller, and there was no main sheet, halyards, or other lines. I could not head up or bear off the wind; someone had hidden the compass. I was also constrained to a travel lane, and no one seemed to know the “rules of the road.” It took some adjustment.

These days I’d be hard-pressed to remember the “rules of the road” for sailors, coastal navigation, or how to keep a course. I’m much more familiar with my automobile than a boat. But I still have the odd and pleasing dream of sailing heeled over in a moderate breeze, one hand on the tiller and the other on the main sheet. I am somewhere off Sequin Light with a long day of sailing ahead – and be dammed to the traffic on the bloody highway!

Star Bright

Mr. and Mrs. Claus arrived on Harold Sprague’s lobster boat on Saturday. And the Cap’n officially decided it was time to decorate Psyche for the holidays. But, of course, as Able Bodied crewman and son-in-law, it was I who would do the brunt of the decorating under the direction of the Cap’n’s wife, Cora.

“Wes, hang the swag right at that rubber thingie.” Cora usually did not associate with the boat and meant the winter rub rail.” ” OK, but if I hang it there, it’ll be washed away on the tide.” And so it went until the boat was tarted up with swags and decorations. It was a fun enterprise, now, but come January, taking it all down would be a more painful issue, alone with no help in the snow. Still, at the end of the effort, Psyche looked attractively decorated. And stood out among the other boats in the cove with forlorn wreaths hung unimaginatively on their bows.

I fortified myself by imagining a giant cup of hot cocoa with a large marshmallow melting on the top. Maybe even a triple threat of treats on top.

At last, the Cap’n emerged from the shed with his favorite decoration, and the reason he moved the ketch to the float at this time of the year; was the lit and decorated star ornament hoisted to the masthead every Christmas season. But, of course, it needed refurbishment every year – check the bulbs and wiring, and renew the spruce covering.

So the entire family stood about and ceremoniously watched and shivered in the cold as old bulbs were replaced, the electrical connection was tested, and the whole contraption sent aloft.

Later that night, the star stood out brightly in the dark of the cove, almost as the star must have over Bethlehem. We sipped our cocoa with marshmallows and felt pleased with ourselves.

Beginnings

Lofty aspirations at sea start with basic jib tending. “Watch that luff.” or  “We’re coming about. Time to shift the jib soon.”“Ready About!”

Plain language as we reach the buoy and are ready to moor the boat, “go forward and dowse that jib.”

Sometimes just a bit of anger when the crew is tardy with the sail on a heaving foredeck.

Soon it’ll be mainsail, halyard, and sheet.

On Tattoos

I do not sport a tattoo, and by force of habit will never put an arm or chest under the needle. Why? I had a Merchant Marine father who wore a large one on his right arm and firmly discouraged tattoos. Once again, you ask, Why? According to my father, tattoos were used by police to identify suspects. And being so many people either have unique designs that are easy to spot, ” it has the names and dates of the last Rolling Stones Concerts.” Or have the same dozen designs, ” he had a big Harley-Davidson tattoo on his right arm.” You become easy to either identify or misidentify.

From his history as a seaman visiting hundreds of ports, my father believed that police were reductionists; you have that tattoo; therefore, you did the crime. While disagreeing with my father on many issues, I had a high opinion of any statement he made regarding seamen and life at sea. The Carreras clan has always been salty and wet, and our oral tradition on things maritime is strong.

I do not object to tattoos for others; they can take their chances being pulled in by the police in Samoa as suspected pedophiles, thieves, or drug-addled purveyors of disputed political platforms. But until they enact legislation banning the darned things, it’s an individual choice.

As you can see, I have no strong opinion on the matter at all.

Surreal Dream

A Flashback Friday presentation from 2019

I’ve had some doozies of lucid dreams in my time. But, about six months ago, I had the most extreme case. ****Spoiler alert John Haley Bellamy is the Dean of 19th-century American Shipscarver ( IMHO). Dali was my favorite Surrealist and habitue of New York growing up. So I wondered what would happen if Dali and Bellamy ran into each other. So – A Surreal Dream.
I was sitting in my usual spot at the Rienzi coffeehouse in Greenwich Village, and joining me that night was John Halley Bellamy. John was down from Kittery for his first trip to the Big Apple. He wanted me to fill him in on who the local shipscarvers were, the best time to visit the Empire State Building, and the Guggenheim directions. We were pouring over one of those little accordion maps of the city that hotels give you when in walk Salvador Dali. Dali siddles up and starts praising Bellamy for being an early Surrealist. “My only dispute with you comes in the calculation of spirals and curves you use; I’ve always preferred logarithmic spirals; you, on the other hand, use something that looks like it’s part of an ellipse? Bellamy, admiring Sal’s logarithmically twined mustachios, takes time to twirl his mustache ends into a number seven Copenhagen curve and replies, ” I started in a boat shop, so I used ships curves.” They happily spent the next ten minutes discussing how to simplify for emphasis, stretch proportions, and play with conventions. For once, I was without words.
After an hour or so, Dali said he’d pick up the check. So he and Bellamy wandered out onto McDougal Street. Dali suggested they head to Paris and visit. Pablo – “Not really a Surrealist, but an interesting artist…”
Pondering my next move, I noticed the signed credit card receipt – I quickly pocketed it and walked out with a signed Dali.

Mahan and the Mermaid

 If you read the “about my stories” page on my blog, you’d see that I love and appreciate sea stories. These generally have the approach of TINS – this is no shit. In other words, ” I heard this from my buddy, who served aboard the USS Pig Tail when it happened.” Sea stories do not have the classic “they lived happily ever ending.” More likely, they end with everyone heading off to the Blue Anchor for an evening of carousing.

Well, to each his own. But each genre has a perverse “you just know this didn’t happen” take on things. For example, visiting the Unseely Court for fairy tales and mermaids for sea stories. So there is a sort of connection.

Mahan was married to a mermaid. It seemed unlikely that a stunning daughter of the sea would pick Mahan, the Navy’s most unkempt and alcoholic Bosun’s mate. When we first heard about it, we figured it was an alcoholic hallucination. But in fact, that’s what the marriage certificate said. Mahan was seen every month driving to the pet store to get the twenty-pound bags of Miracle Sea to add to her required bath water. On the few occasions that Stella was seen in social company, she was always in long green sheathlike dresses that seemed as though it was actually “her” rather than clothes. Her tiny feet seemed an afterthought and not natural. She always hung on Mahan for support and had a way of flipping her legs about that didn’t seem normal. The other Navy wives and girlfriends thought she was odd, used no cosmetics, and loved the seaweed salad at the harborside sushi restaurant. But Mahaan was smitten, and Stella was smitten with Mahan.

Their families did not get along. Hers objected to her marrying a member of her people’s age-old exploiters. And his family found her background too “fishy” and improbable. Being of old Irish stock, the Mahan family knew about the “special” people of Ireland and wondered aloud why he couldn’t marry a proper Irish Sidhe and not some watery tart.

Stella and Mahan felt confident that the families would reconcile when the children came along. But the grandmothers to be argued endlessly about whether the birth should happen in the hospital or nearby harbor. Mahan, his father, and his father-in-law sensibly left the delivery location to them.

Then they laid a course for the Blue Anchor, bought multiple rounds for the house, and left birthing to the ladies.

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