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.

Sodom and Gomorrah on the Atlantic

I’m not a great fan of “Lobsta”; don’t hate it. But don’t love it. You could say that I ping pong regarding my like or dislike.
In 1965 I was a waiter at the old Poland Springs Hotel. I carried a thousand platters of lobster with drawn butter into the main dining room. The trays filled with lobster leaked brine all over my waiter’s monkey jacket, and the drawn butter oozed down my arm, and into my armpit. The reek put me off “Lobsta” for several years. By 1972 I could eat a lobster, but like the Melville character, I’d prefer not to.

Sunday dinner at my in-laws cabin was always the same. Dinner was served at 11:30 AM, two lobsters apiece, salad ( Kraft Thousand Island or French dressing), bread and butter or pilot biscuit, your choice of water or iced tea. The meal and timing were invariant over the years. My wife could not remember when it had not been thus. My not liking lobster was not reason enough to alter family tradition. Minor illness at the smell of the drawn butter was not sufficient reason to change.

My mother-in-law could not understand why anyone wouldn’t pick the last bit of flesh out of the least spinneret, nook or cranny of a lobster’s body: “Wes, Don’t you want to pick that ragged body? There’s still lots of meat on it!” No, you can have it, and, I don’t want the tamale why don’t you take it? “Oh, Wes always leaves the best parts, Mommy,” says my wife. Tamale tastes worse than the rest of the lobster if the cat won’t eat it neither will I.
“Wes? What’s wrong? Can’t eat your second lobster? You can’t get them this good in a restaurant” stated with a clever nod by my father in law the Cap’n. No matter how many Sundays pass, the lines are roughly the same. To them, it just seemed unnatural that I disliked the main course. Arguing did no good. After listening to a request for something different, I was looked at for a few minutes in a distracted fashion, my abnormal behavior noted, and the family proceeded to devour lobster.

I had grown up in a family where passionate arguments were the norm, but once won or lost the decision stuck. Discussions rarely ended in my wife’s family. Your disagreement was noted, and then subsumed in an orgy of lobster.

If and argument was worthwhile having once, the second time around was better. You renegotiated your starting positions, but not your terms. The objective on Sundays was to get Wes to agree that lobster was natures best food.
The exception to the endless rehashing of old discussions was the Cap’n; Daddy. In this family, Daddy was always right. If Daddy wanted “Lobsta” everybody had “Lobsta.” It was the natural order of this small end of the coastal universe.

This particular Sunday, Mommy announced that after dinner, we would plan our summer trip. I had been on a few of these already. Like Sunday dinner, the excursions were patterned and predictable. Sail out past Sequin Light, sail up the Sassanoa River, shoot the Hell Gates, then an evening pause downriver from Bath. The next day there’d be a leisurely sail down to Popham. From Popham, it was out to Matinicus, Monhegan or some other location, and then home. That year I was determined to suggest an alternative destination.
So, after the last ragged body and swimmeret had been picked clean, dishes washed and picnic table cleaned, the family gathered in the parlor to discuss the trip. Mommy began. “Daddy, where would you like to go this year?” while Mommy always introduced the topic she hated sailing and would never join us on a trip; a rare never renegotiated item. The Cap’n did not expect Mommy to come and never suggested it. My wife and if he were present, my brother in law faithfully suggested the stalwart choices: Bath, Popham, Matinicus, and Monhegan. I decided to lower an oar into the water. “Well,” said I “I’ve never been to Mount Desert Island or Bar Harbor. I’d love to go there.” A great stillness followed this pronouncement. Everyone looked toward Daddy. Daddy looked toward his pipe and the can of Holiday Pipe Tobacco ( the one with the black on blue illustration of a 1940’s cruise liner and tropical isle). Daddy filled his pipe, lit it and drawing on it said “Baah Habaah. We don’t do Baah Habaah. That’s just Sodom and Gomorrah on the Atlantic.” And so it was.


The family billed the trip as a sort of” go where we want to go, get there when we get there” event. We’d wind up at Monhegan eventually. Truthfully, it was a paced exercise in tides, ground made good, efficient sail use and pilotage. The Cap’n was a real Master Mariner.

One of the few contemporary pictures I have is one of me looking quite salty at the helm of Psyche, the beautiful thirty four foot ketch the Captain owned. It’s a lovely photo until you notice the snaking crooked wake behind me. So, while the Cap’n was trying to calculate ground made good, the crew, me, was not holding the course. Despite being “wet from birth” as a member of a seagoing family, I was a near-total loss as a sailor. The family planned to make a mariner, boat repairman and generally “useful” individual out of me.
I was a study in frustration to the Cap’n.

Indeed, I was the crew, the only crew. “Wes! go forward and douse that jib!” and “Wes, get the lead line”, and “Wes, bear off a bit more.”

Despite the crew’s errors, we continued at a respectable pace with the Captain gauging tides and currents. He took great pride in shooting the passage between the Hell Gates, and in having the right amount of water below and clearance above a nasty bridge further upriver. It was a favorite exercise in tide and timing. He then played chicken with the bridge keeper at Bath who never gave anything more than scant excess in lifting his span above the ketch’s masts.

The Cap’n liked to tie up at a coal pier on the river in Bath, and take dinner ashore. After dinner, we spent a peaceful night anchored in a cove downriver from Bath. The Kennebec in the failing light with no other boats in sight looked like a wilderness until a scattering of lights came on in nearby cottages.

The next day we proceeded downriver. The Cap’n drilled the “crew” on tacking, jibing and handling the puffs of wind coming off the land. This is where the snaky wake picture was taken. At Popham, we briefly stopped. I was all set to explore, but the Captain decided that it was too touristy a stop and off we went. I overheard a muttered crack about Bar Harbour.


It as early enough to make a passage to Monhegan. The Captain calculated that we’d get there close to sunset. As was often the case with things nautical he was close on the mark. The son of a friend was Harbor Master, and we thought we’d be able to get a mooring for “a fifth or a fiver.” But, the son of the friend was nowhere to be found, and dark was coming on fast. The Captain reluctantly decided on the anchorage. It took five or six tries to get purchase on the shingle and gravel bottom of the channel between Monhegan and Manana. It was 9:30 before we were sitting down for a favorite shipboard meal: sardines, sea biscuit, and tea. About the time we were finished the tide turned, the wind shifted, and squalls moved in. Anchored in the channel between the two islands our boat began an uncomfortable arrhythmic roll.

About 10:15 the Cap’n insisted on a game of cribbage. I hate cribbage so much that to this day I frequently cannot recall the name of the game. That distaste originated in playing with the Cap’n and his family. As is the case with many things disliked they do not get done well. Every mistake I made was gleefully pointed out, every missed nuance or boneheaded play was chuckled over. I left the game early. “But, Wes Daddy wants you to play some more.” I’d prefer not to. So off I went to study the lights list, warning to mariners and the 1941 edition of Bowditch. By midnight the roll was bad enough that my wife was looking jaundiced, and even the Cap’n looked bilious. Knowing that I’d soon join them, I did what my father ( Merchant Marine – Engine Room – Not Bridge!) had always advised and “hit the hammock.” Wife and father in law looked at me oddly as I brushed my teeth and climbed into the small forward berth. Doing this left the longer berths in the main cabin for them. After so much dousing of jibs, bearing off, coming about, and hauling sheets and anchors, I was so tired that little could have kept me awake. The crew was pooped.

The next morning I woke around 0600. There was a brisk wind from the east, and the unfortunate weather pattern of the previous night was breaking fast. The Cap’n and my wife looked worse than they had last night. After I’d gone to sleep, they couldn’t. The roll had played with those sardines and biscuit. Then Cap’n had started worrying that the anchor might drag. Being unable to rouse me an unhappy wife had gone on deck with Daddy to check the anchor. She then stayed up to keep Daddy company. She said little, but gave me looks that said: “why aren’t you feeling guilty?” Both looked seasick, tired, and peeved at me. I felt great and suggested a row ashore after some breakfast. They declined both. So I fired up the alcohol-fueled Shipmate stove and made eggs. Have I mentioned to those of you who never sailed with an alcohol-fueled Shipmate stove that many find the odor sickening? No?

After a generous breakfast, I offered a row ashore and a stroll. My wife declined and told me, with a little lift in her chin, that she’d stay with Daddy. I returned in about an hour because from the shore; I could see signs aboard the ketch that the Captain was preparing to depart. Being the son of a merchant mariner, I couldn’t see the sense of visiting a port and not sampling its wares. As a former Navy man, I was anxious not to miss the ship’s movement, and so I hurried back aboard.
Onboard the ketch, both wife and Captain looked green. The Captain told me that he was all for breaking the anchor free now. That meant I was to go forward to achieve that while my wife reluctantly took the wheel under the Captain’s direction.

The sail back to home was breakneck which did little to ease the tender stomachs aboard. I went below to make coffee, and to fry some bacon for sandwiches. This drove my wife on deck. Both the Cap’n and my wife began talking about how it must have been something terrible they ate on the trip that made them ill. “Well, Wes was mess cook,” stated my loyal wife. How much cooking was involved in serving you your sardines and sea biscuit, said I. I was sure that the Captain was miffed that I hadn’t been sick when he, with years of sea time, had been. I just smiled.


When we took up our mooring at home, we all agreed that we’d unload trip gear the following day. My wife stated that Daddy would be his old self after Sunday night in his bed. I agreed and rowed them ashore.

The walk up from the cove was silent. It had not been the best trip. My wife was fuming mad at me, and I had been peppered by comments on my seamanship all the way home. “watch your luff…head up…mind your helm!…bear off…watch your luff!”
As we approached the house, out came Mommy. With a big welcoming smile she exclaimed “welcome home I saved dinner for you! I knew you’d want your lobster dinner. I’ve got a salad, biscuit, and some drawn buttah!” My companions turned green.

Mid Watch

You get a sort of meager slumber. Night-Ops rumbling above, General Quarters can sound any time; and up you’d rise to your assigned station. You don’t bother shucking off your shoes; you might not have time to put them back on. That was Operational Readiness Inspection.
Given that as a background, you’d think that a quiet anchor watch in a friendly harbor would be a piece of cake. Not so when the anchor, solo, is holding loosely on shingle, and the skipper and rest of the crew have flexible ideas of what constitutes a watch. Four hours you’d say (except for the two dogged watches). Perhaps if you’re more familiar with bells, it should be eight bells ( two bells in each hour). These days you might pull out a phone or tablet and spend the time with music playing. Not so then; things that played music did not fit in a pocket unless they were a harmonica.
Inevitably, your mind wandered to things best left unexamined. Why did I agree to come on this stupid cruise knowing that I’d catch the mid-watch? Then the sound of oars and loud voices came to me over the water. “Hey. Pipe down. Everybody’s asleep…except for the anchor watch.” “Ahoy Psyche! Is that young Westerly? Do you want a bottle? We have one more drop, and we’ll be chumming the fishies!” I thought this one over before answering quickly. ” It’s Wes, and I assume that you’re the crew that shut down the Twin Dolphins tonight.” The reply- ” We are. So, you want the bottle?” I jumped into the skiff, let off the painter, and rowed out to meet them.
A companionable two hours of conversation and sipping killed off the balance of the watch. The crew that shut down the Twin Dolphins rowed back to their schooner and me to the ketch.
As I was climbing on board, a groggy Cap’n emerged on deck. ” I thought I heard voices…is that rum I smell?” My reply: “Sure is Cap’n. In the middle of the mid-watch, I rowed out to meet a bunch of rum-toting drunks. We drank all their rum, and only now am I reporting back for duty.”
He blearily looked at me. If he weren’t just fresh from his bunk, he’d have pulled out his pipe and done his little routine of filling it, lighting it, puffing on it, and then pointing the stem at me. Being it was 4:30 in the morning, he just grumbled, ” the mid-watch can do strange things to the mind, but providing rum doesn’t count as one of them.” Before he noticed, I quickly deep-sixed the empty pint of rum over the side.

Light Air

<p class="has-drop-cap" value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80"><a href="https://wordofthedaychallenge.wordpress.com/2020/10/10/sultry/">Sultry</a&gt; is not the usual term used for days on the coast. The realtors, tourist industry, and boat brokers want you to think about cooling breezes, glorious summer sunsets on the beach, and romantic dinners at outside venues. None of these folks have spent a windless, sun raked day sanding varnish at a boatyard. Now that's sultry.Sultry is not the usual term used for days on the coast. The realtors, tourist industry, and boat brokers want you to think about cooling breezes, glorious summer sunsets on the beach, and romantic dinners at outside venues. None of these folks have spent a windless, sun raked day sanding varnish at a boatyard. Now that’s sultry.

Hot, dry, and no wind. Perfect for the varnisher. I had just finished the Barnaby boat, so Peggy, the yard varnisher, could start. She was very particular, so I took a break in the shade of a sloop hull while she double and triple checked my work. I was low man at Spinney’s boatyard and not quite trusted yet. At last, she gave the nod, and off I was to my next assignment. Another great job; applying bottom paint to another sloop.

Spinney decided that the bottom could wait and called me over. “Wes, can you take Miss Talbot and her friend out on Prism? Her dad’s thinking of buying it, and it’ll be her boat. Let her see how it sails.”

“Sure, boss, but there is barely light air out there. I’m not sure it’ll be much of a sail.” Now, light air is a sailor’s term for air movement of roughly one and a half to three miles per hour. You can’t call it wind, and it’s not even breeze. At best, you ghost along. If it’s not too hot, it can be relaxing.

Spinney, not wanting me to lose him a sale, told me to get going and sail. So it was down to the float to collect Miss Talbot, her friend, and Prism.

Prism was an old one design sloop of about sixteen feet. In the twenties and thirties, dozens of these designs had gotten popped out like toast from a toaster. They had been purchased in the thousands by boating and yacht clubs all over the coast for racing. Many were built, but few remained. Prism was the last of her type around here, making it impossible to sail as part of a class of similar boats. A long string of owners had neglected her, delegating her to entertaining bored “Summer Complaint” teens. In a few years, Prism would be lovingly restored by newly appreciative owners, and have a featured article in one of the boating magazines. But for now, she was a tired old boat that Spinney was trying to dump.

At the float, Miss Talbot was waiting with her friend. I showed them aboard and got ready to shove off the float while assessing their boating knowledge, meager. Taking advantage of the light air to teach them the rudiments of sailing, I soon had one on the tiller and mainsheet, and the other handling the jib sheet. It was “flat” sailing, no heeling, no rush of water beneath the hull, and no wind rushing in your hair. It was just what was ordered to sell the boat. Or so I thought. Miss Talbot grew bored. “Can’t we get this thing to go faster?”

I was interested in going faster as well. Off to the northwest, I could see thunderheads developing, and had no desire to be caught on the water in a sudden blow. I began to teach them light air sailing tricks: dowsing the mainsail with water to create a bit of a belly for catching the wind, and repositioning crew to create a bit of a heel. None of it worked.

All of a sudden, the wind picked up, and I hurried to take advantage of it to get us back to Spinney’s. Not in a panic, yet, but I expected that anytime soon, the wind would back and veer rapidly ( suddenly shift directions), and then we’d be caught in the storm. By now, Prism was sailing as close to the wind as I could get her, and the little sloop was heeled over almost so much that green water was sloshing aboard. All pretension of teaching was now gone as I raced against the storm. Then I noticed that Miss Talbot and friend were shrieking in excitement – “Faster – Faster!” The rain started about a hundred yards off the float, and it was not long before we were all soaked to our skins. I could see Spinney getting the launch prepared to go get us should we capsize. Coming up on the float I killed Prism’s momentum and tossed the mooring line to Spinney. Flopping down onto the boat, I was exhausted. The two excited young women were standing there, shouting, ” Let’s go out again!” Spinney looked me and made a gesture of thumb and fingers of his right hand rubbing together. Sale made. ” Good work Wes, but that was close. Don’t hot dog out there that much next time.”

Some father was going to regret his decision to set these two loose on the Harbor; very soon.

Flotation

<p class="has-drop-cap" value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">Sitting on the float, I could look at my reflection in the water. If I shifted focus, I could see the thousands of small jellyfish swarming around the float and the nearby wharf. Spinney, the boatyard owner, was turning over in his hand the carved eagle-headed cane that I had created for my father in law as a birthday present. I had worked on it at Spinney's, so it would be a surprise. I figured that if Spinney liked it the Cap'n might as well.<br>Now I had just been trying to think of something attractive I could carve for the Cap'n. I wasn't thinking of his reaction. The gift-giving got off to a real bad start with the card that suggested that he wasn't getting any younger. Then Cora and my wife gave him the inflatable floatation jacket. It was a beauty. It was a trim windbreaker, but if you went into the drink, all you had to do was pull a little lanyard, and the jacket inflated. Like a lot of Maine coastal males of his age, the Cap'n couldn't swim. The local water was cold enough to discourage it except among the Summer Complaints, and there were no pools in the area in those days. The ladies' concern was his safety, but he saw it as a veiled reference to his age and incapability. Then came my cane. That ripped it.<br>Out came the pipe. The Cap'n filled it, tamped it, and lit it. He slowly puffed it to life and looked at the interloper in the family – Me. "Wes. It's time you showed me how well you've mastered the piloting I've been teaching you. When we are done with Psyche at Spinney's, you are going to sail us all home.<br>Sail Psyche home from Spinney's round Ocean Spray Point and past those snags barely awash at low tide called the Three Widows?Sitting on the float, I could look at my reflection in the water. If I shifted focus, I could see the thousands of small jellyfish swarming around the float and the nearby wharf. Spinney, the boatyard owner, was turning over in his hand the carved eagle-headed cane that I had created for my father in law as a birthday present. I had worked on it at Spinney’s, so it would be a surprise. I figured that if Spinney liked it the Cap’n might as well.
Now I had just been trying to think of something attractive I could carve for the Cap’n. I wasn’t thinking of his reaction. The gift-giving got off to a real bad start with the card that suggested that he wasn’t getting any younger. Then Cora and my wife gave him the inflatable floatation jacket. It was a beauty. It was a trim windbreaker, but if you went into the drink, all you had to do was pull a little lanyard, and the jacket inflated. Like a lot of Maine coastal males of his age, the Cap’n couldn’t swim. The local water was cold enough to discourage it except among the Summer Complaints, and there were no pools in the area in those days. The ladies’ concern was his safety, but he saw it as a veiled reference to his age and incapability. Then came my cane. That ripped it.
Out came the pipe. The Cap’n filled it, tamped it, and lit it. He slowly puffed it to life and looked at the interloper in the family – Me. “Wes. It’s time you showed me how well you’ve mastered the piloting I’ve been teaching you. When we are done with Psyche at Spinney’s, you are going to sail us all home.
Sail Psyche home from Spinney’s round Ocean Spray Point and past those snags barely awash at low tide called the Three Widows?

Spinney ever-helpful coached me on the task. He advised that I motor out to avoid the crowded anchorage, and only then set sail. We started on the high tide, and the way home was charted for me once I was beyond Ocean Spray Point. A small amount of overconfidence set in as I rounded the point. I attempted to fly past as I had seen the Cap’n do it many times. I failed to account for a night of high winds stirring up heavy surf on the shore. I almost drove us aground and could feel the sand churning under the drop keel. Scared, I put on a confident face and rode out the close call. Beside me, the Cap’n blanched but said nothing. Behind me, I could hear Cora, my wife, and her aunt gasping. The rest of the journey was uneventful until we came upon the mooring. Dropping sail, I made my final approach under power. I sent the Cap’n forward to handle my usual job of picking up the mooring. My wife reluctantly went forward to secure the jib. While doing this, she bent over while the Cap’n was bending over. She accidentally shoved her father off the bow and into the water.
In slow motion, this is about what happened next. I slipped into reverse to avoid accidentally running over the Cap’n. The Cap’n’s wife Cora started screaming for someone to throw him a life jacket, and my wife ran back to the cockpit to grab the cane, you do remember the cane, don’t you? About this time, my wife remembered that they had made the Cap’n wear the flotation jacket, and started hollering at him to “pull the thingee!” He yelled back, ” What’s a thingee?” I hollered, ” THE LANYARD!!!” The Cap’n pulled the lanyard and puffed up like the Michelin tire guy. My wife frantically reached out with the cane to give the Cap’n something to grab onto but failed to remember the old injunction that you always keep one hand for the ship and one hand for yourself. She went into the water with the Cap’n.
The Cap’n set out dog paddling towards the skiff tied to the mooring, but the way he was puffed up by the jacket made it impossible for him to get into it. My wife swam to the transom of the skiff and heaved herself into it. In the meantime, I gave the wheel of the boat to Aunt Grace ( the only one of us not in a panic), went forward with a boat hook, picked up the mooring, and secured the boat. By that time, my wife had found the release valve on the floatation jacket. After it deflated, he was able to pull himself into the skiff. He was mad as a wet cat. He reached for his pipe to find that all the contents of the jacket were wet – pipe, tobacco, and matches. His signature move ruined the Cap’n became madder. When upset, he habitually filled his pipe, tamped the tobacco, lit up, puffed, and at last pointed the pipe at whoever had annoyed him. Me usually. “That’s the last time I’ll trust my boat to some jacked-up Navy Brat son of a snipe!” this last being a slur on my naval service, and a slur on my father serving as an engineer in the merchant marine. The Cap’n, of course, had been a Bridge officer.
With all the confusion, the cane floated away. The Cap’n ripped off the floatation jacket and tossed it after the cane.

It took a while to get everyone ashore and settled. By silent agreement, little was said about the day’s events. But plenty of meaningful looks were passed between the Capn’ and me. It was agreed that the saviors of the day had been my wife and aunt Grace.

Next week I was taken to the Harbor Diner for lunch on Spinney and the crew. They wanted all the details. Spinney regretted that the cane had gone adrift, but handed me an order for three canes. The Cap’n never let me take the wheel again. I was OK with that.

Adventures In Coastal Living – Thrift

The Cap’n and his wife Cora were not children of the Great Depression. They preceded it but lived through it. The Cap’n happily reminded me, whenever I was about to indulge in anything he perceived as a frivolous expense that ” In Maine, when the rest of the country got a cold, Maine got pneumonia.” It was his way of trying to teach me the frugal habits that had made him successful. His spendthrift son in law had not grown up impoverished. But, he hadn’t had a silver spoon shoved into his mouth either. The frivolity he was expressing dismay over was taking my wife, his daughter, out to a local restaurant. It was the second time in a month, and that was foolish.
Many of the Cap’ns ways made sense. We always painted one side of the house each year. He would make the trip to the hardware store and buy just enough of the cheapest exterior white paint he could find. We had a rotation, one side a year with some touch up on the nor’eastern side where the worst of the winter weather piles up. The slight variations in the different whites weathered out, and you really could not tell the difference. It was cheap to do it this way and divided the labor into reasonable annual amounts. Most important of all, it allowed more time to prep Psyche for summer sailing and meant more time to be sailing. The Cap’n had his priorities, and in that case, they aligned with mine.
I argued some times. He asked me to put a second long splice into a mooring line, and I rebelled. Making splices are a necessary part of a sailor’s skill set. But, multiple splices in a short line weaken the whole. In a mooring line, the single time it parts is the time you lose the boat. I won that argument and off we went to get a new coil of rope ( it’s only rope when it’s in the original coil – unwind it, and it’s line – fussy sailor stuff).
People who are not from New England tell jokes about string too short for saving. Well, I’ve been here for pretty much my entire adult life. Lots of that frugality wound up getting spliced into me.
When I emerged from a career as a government anthropologist, I walked back into boat shops where old paint, varnish, line, and wood got saved. Damn it that cost money. My shop and storage shed has lots of wood and supplies leftover from earlier projects. OK, I’ll admit it, I have wood in my store that’s been there since 1974. Every time I’ve moved, I moved it as well.
The Cap’n called it inculcation. I guess concerning my shop habits, it worked. But, I still do things that’d make the old itch furious; I love those new planes I bought last winter.

Adventures In Coastal Living – Sodom and Gomorrah on the Atlantic

I’m not a great fan of “Lobsta”; don’t hate it. But don’t love it.
In 1965 I was a waiter at the old Poland Springs Hotel. I carried a thousand platters of lobster with drawn butter into the main dining room. The trays filled with lobster leaked brine all over my waiter’s monkey jacket, and the drawn butter oozed down my arm and into my armpit.
The reek put me off “Lobsta” for several years. By 1972 I could eat a lobster, but like the Melville character, I’d prefer not to.

Sunday dinner at my in-laws was always the same. Dinner served at 11:30 AM, two lobsters apiece, salad ( Kraft Thousand Island or French dressing), bread and butter or pilot biscuit, your choice of water or iced tea. The meal and timing were invariant over the years. My wife could not remember when it had not been thus. My not liking lobster was not reason enough to alter family tradition. Minor illness at the smell of the drawn butter was not sufficient reason to change.

My mother-in-law could not understand why anyone wouldn’t pick the last bit of flesh out of the least spinneret, nook or cranny of a lobster’s body: “Wes, Don’t you want to pick that ragged body? There’s still lots of meat on it!” No, you can have it, and I don’t want the tamale why don’t you take it? “Oh, Wes always leaves the best parts, Mommy,” says my wife. Tamale tastes worse than the rest of the lobster; if the cat won’t eat it, neither will I.
“Wes? What’s wrong? Can’t eat your second lobster? You can’t get them this good in a restaurant.” – stated with a clever nod by my father in law the Cap’n .
No matter how many Sundays pass, the lines are roughly the same. To them, it just seemed unnatural that I disliked the main course. Arguing did no good. After listening to a request for something different, I was looked at for a few minutes in a distracted fashion, my abnormal behavior noted, and the family proceeded to devour lobster.

I had grown up in a family where passionate arguments were the norm, but once won or lost the decision stuck. Discussions rarely ended in my wife’s family. If it was worthwhile having once, the second time around was better. You renegotiated your starting positions, but not your terms. The objective on Sundays was to get Wes to agree that lobster was nature’s best food.
The exception to the endless rehashing of old discussions was the Cap’n, Daddy. In this family, Daddy was always right. If Daddy wanted “Lobsta,” everybody had “Lobsta.” It was the natural order of this small end of the coastal universe.

This particular Sunday, Mommy announced that after dinner, we would plan our summer trip. I had been on a few of these already. Like Sunday dinner, the excursions were patterned and predictable. Sail out past Sequin Light, a race up the Sassanoa River to shoot the Hell Gates, then an evening pause downriver from Bath. The next day there’d be a leisurely sail down to Popham. From Popham, it was out to Matinicus, Monhegan, or some other location, and then home. That year I was determined to suggest an alternative destination.
So, after the last ragged body and swimmeret had been picked clean, dishes washed, and picnic table cleaned, the family gathered in the parlor to discuss the trip. Mommy began. “Daddy, where would you like to go this year?” while Mommy always introduced the topic, she hated sailing and would never join us, a rare never renegotiated item. The Cap’n did not expect Mommy to come and never suggested it. My wife and if he were present, my brother in law faithfully suggested the stalwart choices: Bath, Popham, Matinicus, and Monhegan. I decided to lower an oar into the water. “Well, I’ve never been to Mount Desert Island and never visited Bar Harbor. I’d love to go there.”
A great stillness followed this pronouncement. Everyone looked toward Daddy. Daddy looked toward his pipe and the can of Holiday Pipe Tobacco ( the one with the black on blue illustration of a 1940’s cruise liner and tropical isle). Daddy filled his pipe, lit it, and, drawing on it, said, “Baah Habaah. We don’t do Baah Habaah. That’s just Sodom and Gomorrah on the Atlantic.” And so it was.

II
The family billed the trip as a sort of” go where we want to go, get there when we get there” event. We’d wind up at Monhegan eventually. Truthfully, it was a paced exercise in tides, ground made good, efficient sail use and pilotage. The Cap’n was a real Master Mariner, had grown up in these waters, and knew what he was about.

One of the few pictures I have left from that part of my life is one of me looking quite salty at the helm of Psyche, the beautiful thirty four foot ketch the Captain owned. It’s a lovely photo until you notice the snaking crooked wake behind me. So, while the Cap’n was trying to calculate ground made good, the crew, me, was not holding the course. Despite being “wet from birth” as a member of a seagoing family, I was a near-total loss as a sailor. The family planned to make a mariner, boat repairman, and generally “useful” individual out of me.
I was a study in frustration with the Cap’n.

Underway on the Kennebec.

Indeed, I was the crew, the only crew. “Wes! go forward and douse that jib!” and “Wes, get the lead line”, and “Wes, bear off a bit more.” It was a trial, but in my secret place, I also loved it. The Cap’n guessed it and put up with me because that love showed through whenever the sails set wing on wing or we ghosted on light air almost too faint to support a gull. The daughter was afraid of the boat; the wife was jealous of it, and the son avoided the topic altogether. Only the son in law grumbled but went with a hidden pleasure. The cruise was a pleasant torment.

Despite the crew’s errors, we continued at a respectable pace with the Captain gauging tides and currents. He took great pride in shooting the passage between the Hell Gates, and in having the right amount of water below and clearance above a nasty bridge further upriver. It was a favorite exercise in tide and timing. He then played chicken with the bridge keeper at Bath, who never gave anything more than scant excess in lifting his span above the ketch’s masts.

The Cap’n liked to tie up at a coal pier on the river in Bath, and take dinner ashore. After dinner, we spent a peaceful night anchored in a cove downriver from Bath. The Kennebec in the failing light with no other boats in sight looked like a wilderness until a scattering of lights came on in nearby cottages.

The next day we proceeded downriver. The Cap’n drilled the “crew” on tacking, jibing, and handling the puffs of wind coming off the land. This is where the snaky wake picture was taken. At Popham, we briefly stopped. I was all set to explore, but the Captain decided that it was too touristy a stop and off we went. I overheard a muttered crack about Bar Harbour.

III
It as early enough to make a passage to Monhegan. The Captain calculated that we’d get there close to sunset. As was often the case with things nautical, he was close on the mark. The son of a friend was Harbor Master, and we thought we’d be able to get a mooring for “a fifth or a fiver.” But, the son of the friend couldn’t be found, and dark was coming on fast. The Cap’n reluctantly decided on the anchorage. It took five or six tries to get a purchase on the shingle and gravel bottom of the channel between Monhegan and Manana. It was 9:30 before we were sitting down for a favorite shipboard meal: sardines, sea biscuits, and tea. About the time we were finished with the “meal,” the tide turned, the wind shifted, and squalls moved in. Our boat began an uncomfortable arrhythmic roll in the channel between the two islands.

About 10:15, the Cap’n insisted on a game of cribbage. I hate cribbage so much that, to this day, I frequently cannot recall the name of the game. That distaste originated in playing with the Cap’n and his family. As is the case with many things disliked, they do not get done well. Every mistake I made became a gleeful pronouncement, every missed nuance or boneheaded play was chuckle-worthy.
I left the game early. “But, Wes Daddy wants you to play some more.” I’d prefer not to. So off I went to study the lights list, warning to mariners and the 1941 edition of Bowditch. By midnight the roll was bad enough that my wife was looking jaundiced, and even the Cap’n looked bilious. Knowing that I’d soon join them, I did what my father ( Merchant Marine – Engine Room – Not Bridge!) had always advised and “hit the hammock.” Wife and father in law looked at me oddly as I brushed my teeth and climbed into the small forward berth. Doing this left the longer berths in the main cabin for them. After so much dousing of jibs, bearing off, coming about, and hauling sheets and anchors, I was so tired that little could have kept me awake. The crew was pooped.

The next morning I woke around 800 AM. There was a brisk wind from the east, and the unfortunate weather pattern of the previous night was breaking fast. The Cap’n and my wife looked worse than they had last night. After I’d gone to sleep, they couldn’t. The roll had played with those sardines and biscuits. Then the Cap’n had started worrying that the anchor might drag. Being unable to rouse me, an unhappy wife had gone on deck with Daddy to check the anchor. She then stayed up to keep Daddy company. She said little, but gave me looks that said: “why aren’t you feeling guilty?” Both looked seasick, tired, and peeved at me. I felt great and suggested a row ashore after some breakfast. They declined both. So I fired up the alcohol-fueled Shipmate stove and made eggs. Have I mentioned to those of you who never sailed with an alcohol-fueled Shipmate stove that many find the odor sickening? No?

After a generous breakfast, I offered a row ashore and a stroll. My wife declined and told me, with a little lift in her chin, that she’d stay with Daddy. I returned in about an hour because from the shore, I could see signs aboard the ketch that the Captain was preparing to depart. Being the son of a merchant mariner, I couldn’t see the sense of visiting a port and not sampling its wares. As a former Navy man, I was anxious not to miss the ship’s movement, and so I hurried back aboard.
Onboard the ketch, both wife and Captain looked green. The Cap’n told me that he was all for breaking the anchor free now. That meant I was to go forward to achieve that while my wife reluctantly took the wheel under the Captain’s direction.

The sail back to home was breakneck, which did little to ease the tender stomachs aboard. I went below to make coffee, and to fry some bacon for sandwiches. That action drove my wife on deck. Both the Cap’n and my wife began talking about how it must have been something terrible they ate on the trip that made them ill. “Well, Wes was mess cook,” stated my loyal wife. How much cooking was involved in serving you your sardines and sea biscuits, said I. I was sure that the Captain was miffed that I hadn’t been sick when he, with years of sea time, had been.

IV
When we took up our mooring at home, we all agreed that we’d unload trip gear the following day. My wife stated that Daddy would be his old self after Sunday night in his bed. I agreed and rowed them ashore.

The walk up from the cove was silent. It had not been the best trip. My wife was fuming mad at me, and I had been peppered by comments on my seamanship all the way home. “watch your luff…head up…mind your helm!…bear off…watch your luff!”
As we approached the house, out came Mommy. With a big welcoming smile, she exclaimed, “welcome home. I saved dinner for you! I knew you’d want your lobster dinner. I’ve got a salad, biscuit, and some drawn butter!” My companions turned green.

Coastal English 202

I’ve posted previously about Psyche, about the Captain, and about the Captain and his family’s turn of Biblical Phraseology. Well, here is how it turned out one day with the Captain:

The Captain owned a beautiful Ketch called Psyche. As general dogsbody, I tried to keep up on the maintenance. One day I was aboard cleaning up from a week-long family jaunt to Monhegan when the Captain appeared and started getting ready to make sail. I fumed that half the items stowed below were adrift, and I needed a whole day to re-stow them. That started an argument. One didn’t argue with Frank…he’d spent the years ashore since swallowing the anchor selling soap for Lever Brothers. No was just another opportunity to get you to yes.
After ten minutes of futile argument on my part, he just tamped a new charge of Holiday tobacco into his pipe, lit up, puffed to get it going, looked at me, and said “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” let’s get underway. I was desperately looking for a way to turn the argument back in my favor. But, sweet reason never did work with the Captain. I began digging through my collection of aphorisms for something that would stop him in his tracks. Let’s see – He who sups with the devil should use a long spoon? No. “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved” ( Proverbs). Nope. “the wise shall inherit glory, but shame shall be the promotion of fools ( Proverbs). Nope. Then, thinking on how tired I was, and how hard I had worked all day I came upon “Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn” (Corinthians). This one stopped the Captain for a few seconds, I had picked it up from him, and it was a personal favorite. Then his eyes took on that steely glare that most Master Mariners learn, and he replied to me with a phrase that was probably ancient in the days of the Athenian Navy -“ Grumble ye may, but go you shall.”

We went for a lovely sail.

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