KeyWestOne magnificent sunny morning anchored off Key Lois (home of a hoard of free running research monkeys) while on a sailing vacation in the Florida Keys I suddenly realized that everything sounded funny. This had nothing to do with the granny monkey with two baby monkeys  on her back waving from the beach after George and Amberley had toted fruit over to them – against my best advice. Voices, the aquamarine water massaging the hull, the breeze through the halyards did not sound right. “We need to get out of here – now,” I stated, “We’re in for bad weather.” The robotic voice (Egor) of the NOAA weather radio did not predict a storm anywhere between the Keys and the Dry Tortugas, but it was hurricane season and weather changes are abrupt. Because I am the captain, and the word of a captain is law, George begrudgingly weighed anchor and we headed toward a safe harbor in Marathon.


G Calm B4 the Storm

Half way to port the sky behind us turned black. The winds picked up and a water spout (tornado at sea) appeared. Amberley dozed off – a combination of mild sea sickness, anxiety (her mom had tied herself to the helm) and Dramamine while George just kept muttering, “This was not predicted.”

Sailors don’t trust weather predictions. Memorial Day’s forecast called for a 30% chance of scattered storms after 4 p.m. We left the harbor around one o’clock with friends. The wind died, the sails fell limp, and the boat listlessly flowed with the current. Ex Libris drifted so slowly (she’d caught on to the notion of acedia) that a water snake decided to approach the boat right up to the port hull and then aimed for the stern, followed the boat and tried to come aboard (“Sssssss-render the booty”).  I fired up the engine until we caught an easy southwest wind on our beam and headed up the channel. I couldn’t shake the sense the Slitherin was still following us or that it was graduation weekend at Hog Warts and other snakes would be joining us for cocktails.


A captain is responsible for all life and limbs aboard – even the ones 50′ up his mast. Ralph felt safe and secure high and dry.

We picked up friends in the harbor. Ralph had obligingly been hoisted 52′ up a newcomer’s mast to help fix a broken halyard. We waited until he was safe on deck and then headed back out around two o’clock. We were sailing up the channel dodging barge traffic and scouting for snakes when Ralph asked about the time and the weather. I’d been watching the western sky and agreed that the emerging storm line was early, but the dark clouds were building to the northwest and would probably miss us. When we sighted rain upstream I made the decision to tack and head down river to dodge the storm. George asked if he should take the sails down. I declined and reiterated that we were putting the bad weather a’stern. He shrugged, obeyed the captain and grumbled, “The issue is putting all of this down – it’s a lot of work.”

Moments later the wind shifted and the sky darkened. I ordered the crew to furl the jib and then commanded that the mainsail be dropped – fast. We’d completely missed the thunderhead hidden by an island in the channel. The boat was suddenly broadsided with 28 mph gusts. The sails thundered as we pointed into the wind. George and Ralph climbed up to the mast, pulled down the sail and secured it – all the while the wind was howling and spray was hosing down the deck. The boat bucked through confused waves as the wind fought the current. It took all of my strength to hold a course into the wind and keep the guys steady as they wrangled the sail onto the boom. Going down with the ship was not mentioned in my daily horoscope, we stayed calm, followed our training, and were glad we’d ignored the friendly jesting of another sailor that all can’t be well if the captain leaves the harbor wearing a life jacket. We all had ours on when the weather went to hades in a nano-second. Between subsequent squalls we motored into the harbor, docked safely and sat in the rain under the bimini toasting our confidence and competence during the storm. SailSquall

The captain of a boat is responsible for the safety of everyone aboard and all damages incurred by the boat. Passengers and crew are expected to obey faithfully the captain’s instructions. There is a pact between the captain and crew that safety is the absolute priority for any actions on a boat. That’s one reason skippers don’t sail naked.


Maybe I exaggerate – but it felt like this looks.

We’d learned the previous day that a seemingly healthy guest can suddenly pass out, fall into the life lines and get hurt. During that emergency, as captain of Ex Libris my job was to appraise the situation, determine whether the guest was okay or not. What triggered the realization that our friend was not okay was his stubborn refusal to follow the commands of the captain, which at the time seemed rather simple, “Sit and don’t move.” Here was a seasoned sailor defying the captain and putting two other crew members at risk because of his limited mobility, lack of a life vest, and seriously compromised cognition. Like the air off Key Lois, he did not sound right. Something was very wrong. I turned the boat back to the harbor, gave George the helm put Ralph in charge of keeping our friend sitting in the cockpit and went below to call 911 and have an ambulance meet us at the dock. A trip to the ER determined that our friend had passed out due to a low sugar level and was fortunate not to break any bones or have a more serious medical condition.


Big sky, big water, lots of wind and a tiny boat = great responsibility

Having someone injured on a boat more upsetting than a water snake attempting to come board without first asking the captain for permission. An accident on the water is more nerve wracking than being caught in a squall under full sails. A captain’s responsibility for everyone and everything aboard is more surreal than a family of rhesus monkeys sitting on a beach eating fruit and waving at passing sailors. A few hours later our friend was relaxing by a bonfire cheerfully crooning sea shanties and limericks. My post adrenaline rush lulled me to an early bedtime. I knew he was okay even though he sounded funny.

It's 5 o'clock

It’s always 5 o’clock somewhere – sometimes time flies.

Let’s Welcome a Little Acedia Aboard


Taking It Easy

The buoyant version of spring cleaning is known as commissioning the boat. When the temperatures creep above 65º F boaters in the northern lats get the itch to spit and polish their topsides. It seems counterintuitive to begin a recreation season by working one’s butt off but scaly winter white thighs and a tad-tight drawstring on one’s shorts motivate a lot of elbow grease.

We began the process of hanking on the mainsail (it entails hooking the skinny pointy top end of the sail onto a long line that goes 50’ up the mast and shoving the bottom of it along the boom (the long metal beam that runs parallel to the boat and will knock you senseless or dead if you get in its way – hence the term, boom!) last Sunday. This just happened to be Mother’s Day, about an hour or so after I was released from a hospital for a nasty upper respiratory infection. George was humoring me by letting me recover on the boat because part of the treatment includes a drug that makes rabid pit bulls in Mexican cantinas after midnight appear insipid.


Birds decided to build their nest again in the anchor locker –

Over the course of the next few hours I scrubbed stainless steel fixtures, oiled the teak, cleaned the fresh water tank, vacuumed cushions, and profusely sweated. Missing the second through fourth steps of the ladder down the companionway and bruising my inner arm from elbow to pit, I finally took a break.

That’s when it dawned on me, we boaters need to remember to invite a bit of Acedia aboard. Acedia is the polar opposite of engagement and activity. It’s topor, a state of “I really don’t get a darn”, or as Generation Xers say, “Whatever.” Acedia is something rare to most Baby Boomers hell-bent on doing things and keeping the fires of interest in the world flaming. There is a risk for boaters who imbibe too much rum in large Tervis tumblers over not enough ice, that an extra dollop of acedia can lead to apathy and a refusal to keep up the pace. But mostly, that’s just a hangover from the too much rum and too little ice that split the main brace the prior evening. Seeing a messy sailboat is more painful than a glimpse of unwashed undies hanging from a clothesline. Keeping a ship shape vessel is a matter of character – and pride. But still, there has to be a limit to all the spitting and polishing that goes along with keeping up good appearances.

I did not see one other female on the river Sunday. Given that most of the women in the harbor are mothers, daughters, and grandmothers – or at least know such a woman, I could understand the lure of having someone else break out the barbeque and dust the brownies. Not me, I was content with my scrubbing. Acedia is often associated with solitude, in the prison cell sense but more like a monk who took a vow of silence because he wasn’t much good company anyway. I’d intended to relax and do nothing – which on a boat generally means doing something.

Mothers by and large aren’t familiar with Acedia whether they are pregnant with neonates or the reigning matriarch of a clan boasting four generations. Motherhood can be lonely (midnight watch during croup season through 30 minutes past curfew) but it’s rarely a solitary experience. Whether your child is nearby, abroad, or resting in heavenly peace there’s always a sense of being entangled together. This is because our children are made of ourselves and when we are separated this weird spooky phenomenon takes place where we stay eternally entangled. We can sense each other’s existence no matter how far separated by distance and time. This entanglement is as real as a mother’s love that knows no boundaries or the way the moon reflects on water.

Once in a while, it’s good to just set a spell, take in the now of simply being on a boat with nothing more to do than realize that as a Mother you’re never alone – but a little quiet acedia makes it easier to hear the joy in your soul.



What happens at sea stays at sea

When hurricanes hit coastal areas near dolphin preserves – the first thing to do is let down the nets at the mouth of the bays which provide natural habitats. Theoretically, the nets keep predators out and the dolphins safe. When the hurricanes hit an area dolphins are able to navigate deep and shallow waters for breathing despite horrific wave heights, turbulence, and rip tides near shore. When the storm passes – the females all return grinning, exhausted, and pregnant.

Storms, like the ones experienced in the Florida Panhandle, Alabama and Louisiana were ripe for Derby weekend –as they kicked up some wicked strong rip tides and California-like rough surf. The winds blew steady from the south as a low pressure weather system raked across the northern border of the Gulf of Mexico. The water at our beach became balmy with confused waves after weeks of cold fronts that had kept most beach goers, chilled. There was a fierce undertow the final day of our vacation, but the rip currents seemed clearly marked by a flow of bubbles and clearly identified patterns where swimmers dared not venture. We marked these spots, jumped the breaking surf and frolicked until a blackening sky sent us packing.


Wicked Strong Rip Current


Pays 2 B LTR8

From a safe vantage point on the beach we could clearly see the rip currents. It’s just about impossible for a human to swim against a rip current to get back to shore. The common wisdom for anyone caught in a rip, is to gather your wits, stay calm and swim parallel to the shore. Nobody ever mentions just how far or how difficult this survival exercise is when the surf is breaking between your nose and the beach, arms begin to weaken and kicks become more difficult to coordinate with the critical process of breathing. Being caught in a rip is terrifying.

The term ripped is often used to describe anger. It’s also a term that describes young male torsos with clearly articulated physiques, as in, “He was so ripped in his hip hugging, happy trail revealing swim trunks.” To be ripped off is to be taken advantage of, which triggers the feeling of being ripped. This colloquial term has absolutely nothing to do with ripping off said swim trunks and skinny dipping while body surfing and I’m not going to explain the cul de sac at the end of the happy trail can get very ripped up during such beach play.

Fresh from our Florida retreat, we went to the river today and began spring decommissioning – a fancy term for putting up sails, restoring order to the cabin and reattaching water hoses, draining antifreeze and discouraging mud wasps from making your boat their summer breeding ground. We only had time to hank on the main sail, set the reefing lines, clean the topsides and make the list of all the things needed on the next trip to West Marine (WM = Woe’s Me). Our friends advised that the river current was very strong and sailors who ventured out the day before spend most of their time losing ground every time they came about – another fancy term for making a U Turn on the water when under sail.

We stayed in and cleaned – a necessary beginning to the boating season. We met two couples new to the harbor – one couple, proud owners of the Luna Sea, a 25’ O’Day ,set forth on their maiden voyage. The First Mate, who is in superb physical shape for the work of sailing (if she were male she’d be happily ripped) announced that they were novice sailors – first boat – first time on the water – and ready for adventure. Everything they knew so far had been gleaned from books and You Tube videos. I immediately liked her tenacious confidence and love messing about in boats.

Current warnings from old salts be damned, they left the harbor at noon and returned victorious around 4 o’clock. They met their rip in the form of a southerly wind that managed to spin their boat around and about a couple of times as they tried to dock for the very first time. I went down the dock, grabbed a line and quietly made suggestions for going against the wind.  Two friends followed, one held a dock line the other calmly boarded their slip mate boat to ensure no accidental encounters between hulls. We directed the Captain to head directly into the wind, let the current work for him and with one simple maneuver they were safe in their new berth. We congratulated them for keeping calm, learning new things about their boat and the river – and for having the chutzpah to venture into the current and test their seamanship. IMG_4554

Managing storms at sea, riding the surf, beach combing for treasures given up by Neptune’s maidens, navigating stiff currents, respecting the wind, and dodging hidden obstacles connect us with the greater part of the earth that’s wet. And like the dolphins, for most of us, what happens when on the water – is really none of your ripping business.