EXCUSE ME, BUT WHAT ABOUT A LITTLE CHAT?
What dreams may come ... of boats.
Ya see, Doc, I’ve got this dream. And the point of it, I suppose, is to somehow reexperience what, looking back, seems like a truly wonderful part of my life. You know, the part I spent traveling long, empty-ocean distances on boats.
Oh, I know. I know. You can’t go home again. You can’t recapture the past. Or at least that’s what everybody says. But humor me, Doc. Let me give you at least a faint idea of what it was like, out there, on those extended voyages into the wild blue yonder. Maybe it’ll help.
First off, I should tell you about an old guy named Jack, a globetrotting, supertanker skipper turned Great Lakes pilot. Back in the day, Jack and I spent a good bit of time together shepherding ships across Lake Superior for a wild little outfit called the Great Lakes Pilots Association. And one peaceful night, somewhere northwest of Copper Harbor, while we both stood in the reddish glow of a chart table on board a frowzy Turkish freighter, Jack made an absolutely singular observation.
“You know, I love this stuff—I’ve loved it all my life,” he said, gesturing with a pair of dividers in a way that meant he was talking about all of seafaring, not just charts and chart tables. “But do you know the best part?”
“No,” I replied, watching the old boy expertly step off the mileage to our next hauling point with the dividers.
“Think about it,” he said, tossing the dividers onto the chart, “At this very moment pretty much everybody who’s important to you and me knows where we are and what we’re doing—but then again they don’t!”
It took several more years of bopping around the high seas— venue swapping from the lakes to the Gulf of Mexico and then the oceans of the world—before I really understood what Jack had been getting at. For a while, I figured he’d merely been acknowledging the way bluewater voyaging sets you free from the entanglements and responsibilities of life ashore, at least temporarily. But then one morning much further down the line, while departing Trinidad at the helm of a 200-foot oilfield supply boat, with the attractive prospect of days and days of open ocean travel ahead, I finally realized— what Jack had been saying was that seafaring is so different, often so astonishingly different, from shoreside life that those who don’t live and breathe it will never truly know its beauties and enchantments.
I continued my own seafaring career well beyond that trip to Trinidad. And as time ticked by I both enjoyed—and was occasionally terrorized by—hundreds of happenings that still play like movies in my mind today. Stuff like delivering American-built patrol boats to Panama—and collecting giant rolls of cash from guys in dark suits and reflector sunglasses. And dealing with outrageous storms on board old oceangoing tugs like the
Sara Hayes and the Betty Wood. And watching literally thousands of bottlenose dolphins play the Humboldt Current off the coast of Peru, many of them shooting out of the big rollers like joyful rockets. But yeah, okay, the dream? Last summer, I bought a comparatively small, 30-year-old pocket cruiser, mostly because I love her classical good looks. And although the boat has additional virtues, like a practically new Awlcraft paint job and a practically new Yanmar diesel, I was fully aware when I purchased her that she needed a good bit of upgrading, particularly in light of the very special plan—the very special dream—I had in mind for her.
The idea, you see, is to do a trip like I used to in the old days. Only this time, I’ll be traveling from the Florida coast to the Bahamas or, more particularly, to Hopetown in the Abacos, a destination that, for some reason, inspires me today just as much as places like Port Moreseby, New Guinea, and Antofagasta, Chile, used to way back when. And, of course, to safely actualize such a jaunt, a very reliable boat is called for, a boat that, while old, must be rendered entirely new in terms of systems.
So Doc, is it any wonder we’re talking a serious refit here, with new electrics, water, sanitation, mechanicals … you name it? And is it any wonder that so much work is required—along with so much money and so much time spent away from home—that my wife is making unsettling pronouncements these days like: “You’re obsessed, obsessed! You need to see a psychiatrist. I mean it!”
Oh sure. Sure. I get your drift. Flowers? Yeah, okay. Hit a few long-neglected chores around the ranchero? Maybe a nice romantic dinner for two some place? Certainly. But I’m not crazy, eh Doc? I mean like crazy-crazy, right? Oh! Shoot! Really. Huh! Really?