I’ve been told that Lake Superior is very chary about giving up its secrets. So when the video and photos of the schooner barge Atlanta emerged the other week, It got me started thinking about lakes, seas, oceans, and sailors.
I’ve always found the Lakes to be a little bit intimidating and strange. Large enough and ( at least in Superior’s case) deep enough to qualify as an inland ocean but classified as lakes. It’s always seemed different in its inimitable way from the seas and oceans I’m familiar with. A lake is a little thing. But Superior? That’s a small sea. So do you pour a libation to Neptunas Rex, and does Davy Jones have charge of all items sent into its depths?
Much depends on the answer, do the same sort of superstitious behaviors of the sea thrive in sweetwater versus salt? – is it still unlucky to whistle up a wind? Are bananas onboard still unlucky? Is sailing on a Friday still a bad thing? Or are there other rules that we should follow in the sweetwater realms of the Great Lakes versus the saltwater depths of the Atlantic and Caribbean? Unfortunately, a browse on the internet brought no answers to this question.
It may not seem a necessary set of questions to have answered to the lubberly. But like having good foul weather gear that protects you in a blow, knowing that going twice widdershins around the mainmast is a bad idea, or stepping onto a vessel with your left foot is unlucky. Damn it! These things are essential!
For coffee, the search for perfection is the enemy of the good. So let’s start with the basics. My brewer is a cheap $29.00 basket brewer from Cuisinart. With this bit of piece of 10-year-old plastic and metal, I can consistently brew great coffee. To my tastes anyway – of course, my preferences go back to the pot in my dad’s workshop, the Navy, and the Capn’s little pot on board his ketch Psyche. To the uninitiated, this is seaman’s or sailor’s coffee.
Second-class petty officer John O’Toole once told me that there were seven grades of Navy coffee starting with Joe and winding up with varnish stripper. Wardroom coffee was not on the list. It was made for officers who had no proper standards of what good coffee was.
My father and the Cap’n ( my first father-in-law) were both Merchant Mariner’s, and before signing on for a voyage, wanted to know who the cook was. No dishwater coffee allowed there, or Cookie could get a Jonah Lift over the side during the midwatch.
So should I give away the critical secrets? Simple –
- Good beans. Only grind enough at a time for a day or two.
- Good water. Not fluorinated tap. Filter it
- A well-seasoned pot. Yes, I know you’ve heard the rumors about seamen never washing the pot, and to some extent, it’s true. We never scrub the coffee pot, and we never wash it with soap. Use soap, and your following ten pots will taste off. Just take that pot and lightly scrub it with a soft sponge. Softly mind you – leave that damned Brillo pad alone! You are not Holystoning a deck!
So this upsets you. Think of it as a sort of cast iron pot or skillet. You’ve spent all that time seasoning it, and then cousin Bertha scrubs it bright. I ask you! Does Bertha deserve to survive after such sacrilege?
Finally, your brewing equipment needs consideration. The reason for this rant was a series of articles I read on fancy coffee brewers. Some cost as much as a good quality planer for my workshop. Frankly, too much complication is not my thing. The only tool in my shop with a computer attached to it is the laser cutter and engraver, and it’s too damned fussy for me most of the time. I generally like things simple.
My goal is to drink my coffee, not spend an hour arguing with the buttons trying to get it simply brew. Don’t get me wrong. We’ve had a few of the fancy ones. I gave them away as gifts to people I didn’t like. Better them than me.
Contrary to popular beliefs, sailors are not superstitious. That’s claptrap the college folklorists made up to sell books. We are no more liable to think a bogyman is haunting our boat than the average person.
In my esteemed opinion, sailors are among the more rational of God’s creations.
- Sailing on a Friday is bad juju.
- Please do not come aboard with bananas – same as above.
- Please! No whistling
- It’s bad luck to disturb Blackie, our cat mascot; he brings us good luck.
- No sky pilots, or bead jinglers, are allowed on board ( ministers to the uninitiated).
- Never say anything bad about Davy Jones’ Locker. It’s where all our lost items go, and we’d like to have a chance at recovering them.
- Oh. One last thing, Jonah’s will be deep-sixed over the side. So, if you’re a Jonah, are worried that you might be a Jonah, or have ever been called a Jonah – don’t come near us!