Sailing with Others

18 Apr


long time ago in an office far, far away, I received a typewritten manuscript that told a harrowing tale of a transatlantic voyage gone horribly wrong. The author and his girlfriend had answered a magazine advertisement for crew (yes, it was that long ago) for a bluewater passage on a 40ft sloop owned by a genial Slav. All was well at first, but then, as the tradewinds failed to materialize and the daily runs dropped into double and sometimes single digits, the skipper grew increasingly morose and spent most of each day in his cabin, emerging only to eat and gaze moodily at the sparkling metallic surface of the calm Atlantic.

It all came to an ugly head one night when the poor fellow appeared on deck stark naked and brandishing a butcher’s knife, screaming unknown epithets in his native language. His terrified crew managed to calm him down, and by administering a hefty dose of sleeping medication in his morning tea they gained enough time to barricade him into his cabin as he slumbered. From then until they reached land 10 days later, they fed and watered the raving man through a portlight, living the while in fear that he would manage to break out and slaughter them.

It was a great story, but we never got to print it because the author had written his full name and address only on the envelope, which I had thoughtlessly discarded. Nonetheless, I have heard enough anecdotes over the years to realize that such incidents, while not exactly common, are not exactly rare, either. I have myself crossed an ocean with a skipper who kept a loaded revolver in his stateroom and who, as the voyage progressed, spent more and more time sitting on the pulpit staring at the horizon and conversing in monosyllables. Fortunately, it was a fast trip.

Life out of sight of land on a small boat has a way of sorting people out. Many take to it immediately, others warm to it gradually, and a few want nothing more than to get off this damn boat as soon as possible, and to hell with the rest of you.

Short of becoming a solo sailor, there is no way to avoid sailing with other people, and most of us wouldn’t want to. Quite aside from the pleasure of sharing the experience of sail with family and friends, it never hurts to share the work involved too. With a few exceptions, I’ve also enjoyed getting to know the new shipmates I’ve met over the last few decades of crewing on deliveries or on raceboats, some of whom have become lifelong friends.

You know who the exceptions are. When the wind gets up and you call for help to reef the main, they’re the ones who roll over in their warm bunks and feign exhaustion. When the cook du jour has whipped up a superb and much-needed dinner, they’re the ones who affect not to see the sink full of dishes. I could go on, but you get the drift. The other miscreants—the cookie thieves, the head-cloggers, the snorers, the whistlers, the sneaky farters—they’re small fry by comparison. It’s the idlers who drive you nuts. 


  1. First Last

    Nabil’s comment reminds me of when I was part of a crew of a HAZMET vessel on standby for the salvage of the APL Panama off the beach of Ensenada, MX. The six crew of my vessel included one smoker and one “chawer”. No shore leave and a resupply boat every ten days. The smoker was reduced to rummaging in the trash for spent butts. He refused offers of chaw because it was a nasty habit. When the re-supply panga arrived, he immediately jump in when it came alongside, voluntarily, with permission, quit the job so he could get his “smokes”.

  2. Nabil Amra

    Great story! Your last paragraph is most poignant as well!! Everyone should have to read this before climbing aboard. Don’t forget about tobacco thieves on a long enough voyage. They are cunning and ruthless, driven on to daring gambits to secure the last crumbs of Virginia’s finest..

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