Water Always Wins


RIP S/v Starlight
Photo by JAL

Anything Mother Nature makes she can break and eventually wash it out to sea. The Earth’s maximum terminator is (drum roll please) water. Water can break down and dissolve everything given enough time. Water is patient – it’s been around for over four billion years – today and tomorrow – our lifetime aren’t even a tick of a clock. Over the course of a year enough people die from water related diseases to populate Los Angeles. Ten times more people who aren’t on boats die from un-intentional drowning than those who fall overboard or go down with the ship and drown. Ninety nine point nine, nine, nine percent of boaters never have near death experiences aboard boats. That’s why it’s a recreation – we make good times on, in, and with water.


Mast below dock, boat below mast, keel on river bottom.
Photo by JAL

According to lore, “what the sea wants, the sea will have.” Oversized egos make some people think the sea wants them more than life. They are terrified of drowning. There’s not a sailor who hasn’t had a white knuckled, green cheeked passenger who panicked every time the boat heeled or bucked a wave. I’ve never thought of reassuring such friends that they have a better chance of drowning on land than drowning while cruising. Besides, the adrenaline rush is part of the “90% boredom -10% sheer terror” sailing experience. As captain, my job is to project reassuring confidence as they cling to an extra PFD, and whisper the Hail Mary. Sometimes splitting the main brace is all they need to relax.


Bow to Water

Water is patient. One of the informal laws of nature is that anything Mother Nature makes she can darn well break. She often uses water as the Terminator of choice. Floods, dirty water, droughts, mudslides, tsunamis are weapons of mass destruction. Is it any surprise then, when a sailor fails to take care of the boat – water is going to make a stealth attack and claim the booty as Davy Jones’ very own?

Such was the recent fate of a boat in our harbor. It had been an eyesore for years, collecting wasps, rotting ropes and canvas, breeding mosquitoes, pleading for a restoration. The frozen river bludgeoned her brittle hull, icy tendrils of the silent current breached and violated her to the point of surrender – her anguish silenced as she sunk.

That is a sad boat story. There are happy tales that better capture the sense of why we love boating and savor time on the water. Underlying many of these yarns is a description of a “close call” in the balance between fun and fear. Which reminds me…


Dowry goats got us a whole new generation of sailors who love the sea!
San Diego, Photo by Marlene

We first met our son’s in laws for a day cruise aboard a rented sailboat in San Diego Harbor. Midway across the bay smoke started to billow from the engine compartment. I calmly suggested it was a great time to see how the life jackets fit and test the ship to shore radio by asking if anyone knew it was May Day. Peter, (the father in law) an experienced sailor and an engineer caught on immediately. He calmly opened the engine cover and examined the diesel engine while I grabbed a fire extinguisher (and George – oblivious to the situation – or perhaps because of – grabbed a beer). The problem was water – not fire – there was so much water in the bilge the heat of the engine was creating a plume of steam. He flipped on the bilge pump – George grabbed another beer and Linda snapped great pictures of the Coast Guard, Boat US and the harbor crew coming to the rescue. Water had it’s way into our boat – but we had a way off. We limped back to shore (with the automatic bilge pump cranking) – hopped on another bareboat, hoisted sails, cracked open a bottle of wine and negotiated the number of goats for the dowry.

Boats are symbolic – they represent hopes, dreams, power, and purpose. The boat that sunk in our harbor was a forgotten dream by a neglectful owner. Some among us, consider this to be a relief – they won’t lose sleep over it’s demise. The boat, all 40 plus feet of it, will be refloated, towed away and scrapped. Yet, peering at her topsides a yard beneath the murky surface was deeply disturbing. The river must have a millions of deep secrets. This is what happens when boaters forget to respect water and honor a boat. Water wins.

If you ever come aboard one of my boats – relax. Trust my boat – we take good care of each other. I’ll bring along a bit of sanity, a pocket or so of seamanship, and an intense love of playing on water just to convince you that there is simply nothing better than, well you know, just messing about in boats. It’s a win – win – win for boats, boaters, and water.


Deck Monkey Wanna Bees
San Diego, Photo by Marlene

Was This Predicted?


Narragansett, RI
Winter 2013


Jib Halyard on Winch
Ex Libris

The highlight of sixth grade was the accuracy of predictions generated by my homemade weather station. I was the official weather girl of Indian Point Elementary, who boasted pretty accurate forecasts based on my barometer (a milk carton, two sewing needles and a single hair strand), rain collector, wind direction and speed indicators, cloud chart, and occasional sneak peaks at the newspaper. I kept track of sunrises (red skies at dawn, sailors stay home), sunsets (red skies at night, sailors to play next day), cloud formations, the direction grass went when tossed up in the air, and rainbows. I claimed to smell upcoming rain, snow, and low tide. I was perpetually jotting my observations in a three ring binder that also included early drafts of a science fiction novel, watercolor renderings of costumes for Julius Caesar and crude drawings of planaria (now seen as disgusting little flatworms) caught in our backyard stream.


Pay Attention, 2 Hands on the Wheel

What I don’t get half a century later is why weather predictions are no more accurate with sophisticated digital wizardry than mine were and they were simply based on getting outside and paying attention.  This weekend the imperfect storm of the season failed to deliver eight to ten inches of snow ice as promised. We got dusted. The St. Louis region’s schools are closed – again – because it’s frigid cold and the roads were icy when the busses were scheduled to roll.  Being from New England and upstate New York, I recall walking to school on colder days and more than once skinned my knees and walloped my head by slipping on ice. School closings are a good thing. Remember that in July when school gets out.


June Rise on the Missouri River @ St. Charles 2013
Photo by JAL

I’m going to predict St. Louis regional weather for spring. Looking outside, we’ve got snow on the ground, it’s 15 degrees but the ice is melting from the rooftops. I predict the rest of the snow in middle America will eventually melt so the river will flood this spring and boaters along the Mississippi will moan and groan that another early season is lost to swift current and wayward trees blasting down the channel.

In addition to floods, we will have chilly nights and some nasty days. There will also be lots of sunny days with warms breezes punctuated by green skies and deep thunderous rumbles. The sun will seem to set later and rise earlier in a couple of weeks – but that’s only partially true since we’re tinkering with time and clocks as we spring forward.

People will start wearing fewer layers and shorter arm and leg attire.  Toes will reappear. There will be an uptick of customers in pedicure salons. Sunscreen will replace chap sticks. Pastels will bloom with eggplant, orchid, and violet yielding to lavender hued attire. Snow shovels will be taken over by impatient garden tools. Trees will leave and humidity will rise with the temperatures in the Mississippi Valley. Tempers will flare as summer arrives on time but the river is still high on winter melt.

As for the rest of the country – you’re on your own. Show me any kind of weather on any given day in Missouri and the one thing I know is – just hang on for a minute or so – because change is gonna come sooner or later – like it or not. By the way –are the fat robins outside my window pecking at the icy grass – over eaters or preggers?


Biding Time
by the Book