Ride, Sally, Ride

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Who’s That Sailing On a Tin Can? Photo by NASA

There are still 26 days until the Solstice but yesterday we jumped the season, cast off the dock lines, and sailed Ex Libris into summer.   We would never have left the dock without the help of our dock mates who have far more mechanical skills, tools, and how to fix anything experience, than we’ll ever know. It’s not that we’re dumb, as one pal explained to our daughter, it’s just that we know that by admitting what we don’t know (about fixing boats) – friends who know what to do are happy to help – and ready to set sail as soon as it’s fixed.

I like to think of myself as a confident, competent captain. I can navigate, steer, trim sails, scrub decks, sand and stain teak, and cook. Big whoop. Can I rewire the radio and troubleshoot a dead battery? Nope. Fix the hot water heater? Nada. Change the oil – yeah, maybe – if someone would show me how – but there’s no rush here. Does that keep me dock bound? No. I’ve got friends with skills, I’ve got boats, and I can sail.

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I don’t look like Anne Bonny in my dreams. Not much. Photo via Wikipedia

I fantasize being a brave, challenging woman of the sea like the pirate, Anne Bonney – a fierce hell-cat of a sailor. Legend has it she drank like a man and pissed like a woman – perhaps a tribute to her tumultuous romance with Captain Jack. BTW –her last words to him when he went to the gallows, were “if you’d fought like a man you’d need not be hanged like a dog.” Johnny Depp wept.

When I wanted to become a sailor – I began with a little boats on small ponds and learned by doing. My learning curve included regular and unexpected capsizing. Two-foot-itis keep me trading up until now – with a big boat on a big river. We have friends who have sailed out of the river and into the bigger waters beyond. Other women more honorable than pirates dream of sailing to the stars. One of them, Sally Ride, was born the same year as me. Dr. Ride worked her butt off and despite the “no balls no sit in the rocket” attitude of the time, she became the first woman NASA allowed to sail off-planet. She retired her astronaut status the 80’s and rode out her time as a physicist inspiring girls to dream like Einstein and create the future through science.

Einstein said we are all related to and by time. Anne’s been gone for over 200 years – Sally just three. Whether dreaming of being free at sea or sailing on a comet’s tail – young girls and their grannies are bound through time with child bearing pirates and lady astronauts. Time on boats is well spent and often best savored in the company of good friends – especially the ones with skills.

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Being a STEM Geek is something young girls can do. Dream big. RIP Sally Ride – that lady had skills. Photo by NASA.

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Beach path, The Nest on Indian Rocks Beach

Normal is relative and over rated. What’s a normal boat look like? While you’re at it, show me a typical beach. I expect unique responses – from Hobie Cats to the sliver of sand at Mavericks in Half Moon Bay. Normal boats and beaches span a wide spectrum – the way each color of a rainbow has its own identity and right of being.

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South Denpasar,Bali Beach and Boats JAL

What’s a normal person like? Psychologists decided that like boats and beaches people can be judged on what is deemed as normal and typical. They set up a scale that ranges behaviors by factors such as social deficits and strengths (easy to get along with to PITA), clarity of communication (clear to garbled), interests (boats and swamp pluff), repetitive motion (ex., swimming and finger tapping), and sensory issues (loves to be wet or no contact with water).

We show an interest by engaging with it regularly or collecting a whole bunch of it. When someone’s focus seems is fixated to the point it becomes a defining character trait others may question whether or not the interest is healthy and normal. People can be critical of others and judge their habits as indicators of weirdness.

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If the shoe fits…

I was a geeky kid who hiked alone through swamps, creeks, fields and harbors collecting stuff to look at under my microscope. I collected books to read and stack up in my room should the need to read them again arise as predictably as a neap tide. By middle age, collecting boats was more interesting than merely collecting books about boats. As the economy prospered my interest flourished and sails, paddles, engines, ropes, and anchors accumulated.

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Blue Hues on the Block Island Ferry JAL

I needed to tame my passion for the sea with something requiring less space, maintenance, and annual property taxes. I thought about my youth spent toting a butterfly net and knapsack stuffed with collection jars trudging through the shallow waters of Long Island Sound. I saw myself in the same footwear year in and out – brown, scuffed, sloppy and soggy Topsiders. My tickets to the sea held ten toes, two feet and a prayer to be invited on somebody’s boat. I showed up uninvited at yacht clubs and marinas but was never turned away. Topsiders were calling cards, proof of membership among groups whose social calendar centered on tides and waterlines. Who else would wear grungy leather shoes with white rubber soles in an era of Go Go boots and ballet flats?

Somewhere along the spectrum of normal is a tiny speck for people who temper their constant desire to be on the water by slipping into a pair of deck shoes. That’s my sweet spot on the rainbow. I wear them for play and work – because I can. Topsiders aren’t particularly comfortable shoes. Their weak arch support is balanced with a tenacious grip on wet decks that prevents a lot of painful slips and injuries. Security creates the feeling of comfort.

IMG_5968Some professional women strut their stuff with Tory Burch. I’m confident in my Sperrys. I accessorize the crisp lines of Brooks Brothers pinstripes with color appropriate Topsiders. My collection spans a rainbow of colors that match my quirks and wardrobe.

Obviously, anyone with a tight grasp of normal is going to find me pushing the envelop at either end of the spectrum. Knowing this makes me sensitive to and appreciative of; off-the-bubble nerds, gentle souls, misunderstood leaders, idiosyncratic neighbors, students of all ages, and interesting yet atypical people. I fit with some and not well with others.

That’s okay. The only things that I collect more obsessively than Topsiders are words. I line Jeri@Ragtime-1them up, left to right, in all kinds of combinations of consonants, vowels, verbs and nouns. I’ve just arranged 587 words for no better reason than to mull over the notion that normal is found at every point on the spectrum of human behavior. Why do I like Topsiders so much? Because collecting lots of shoes to wear on boats is a whole lot less expensive and more normal than collecting lots of boats to match with shoes.

Swallow the Anchor

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Chicken-not-of-the sea swallowing the anchor. Ex Libris @ Sioux Harbor

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S/v Sandpiper w/ Ralph & Connie Pickering Alton Pool

All too often, the picture-perfect sail on a pristine afternoon in the company of good friends lacks the pizazz of a good story worth telling twice. Daylight fades, sails are furled, and the anchor is set. The rum ration gets split. Tall tales are birthed as fair winds die and distilled spirits pillage common sense. Contentment yields to bravado. Sailors craft and swap exaggerated accounts of harrowing efforts to tame tempestuous winds rather than dwell on the boredom endured as they trimmed flaccid sails.

Close calls make for good stories. When a snake swims astride the stern and … well, what kind of story follows here? A description of the captain donning her life jacket and abandoning ship when the anaconda-like reptile attempted to board? Or, a recount of the exhausted serpent drifting away in the flood current? There’s a time for a yarn, but there are also settings where yarn is just a mess of knots. That’s when the elements of story must be simple and the story not the storyteller matters.

Insurers frown upon drama. For instance, when filling out an insurance claim after a lightening strike fried all of a boat’s electronics, only the facts should count. The damage is done and financial compensation is due if and only if the facts recounted match the protection described in the policy. Otherwise, if the story teller is viewed as more important than the story – the readers makes assumptions not found on any page (expect Mark Twain’s folksy humor vs. Stephen King’s blend of macabre). So then, when a boat insurer checks a claim (i.e., story) against the numerous clauses in the protection plan that unclearly state, “it’s a forgone conclusion that this claim will be denied because there’s not a word of truth here – sailors tell fibs about everything that happens when anchors are weighed*.”

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Anchored in St. Thomas, VI – our’s for a day’s charter. JAL

Anchors play a big role on boats – they connect what’s afloat to solid land beneath moving water. An anchor holds a boat to where the captain wants to be – safe and secure. Boat captains are expected to act like anchors – to be stable and strong enough to hold a crew’s confidence. Boating is more fun when there is a person aboard who can be unconditionally relied on as unshakable, competent, and trustworthy. When captains serve as anchors we believe their spoken words are true. That is how order is kept at sea – in hell or high water. We trust captains who speak truthfully. Honesty instills respect and raises hope that neither tide nor current will put us in harm’s way. We can rely on an anchor that does its job without fanfare.

When an anchor fails its duty – consequences run afoul. If an anchor is truly fouled, caught on a log or sunken obstruction, the only course of action is to cut the line and let the boat sail free. It’s an expensive loss. Or as Shakespeare put it, “I shall no more to sea, to sea/ Here I shall die ashore”** -the anchor is swallowed – the captain is returned to the land and sails no more.

I’d be watching the Nightly News instead of writing this blog right now if Brian had acted as an anchor instead of as a sailor lost in the charm of an imaginative tall tale. His last words on the air should have been, “life’s a beach.”

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Rested and ready – anchors aweigh! JAL

*anchors aweigh means to haul up the anchor and get moving

** The Tempest

Stuck in Irons

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Winter on the Narrow River Middlebridge, RI JAL

Janus was the Roman God of beginnings and transitions. During the inaugural month of each year the northern hemisphere leans back, wobbles on its axis in a sodden stupor, and shields itself from lengthily doses of direct sunlight. The New Year is stuck in irons. We’re aboard a year that’s stalled. Our rudder, that thing we use to steer and maneuver about life, is temporarily unresponsive. These are the burned out days of winter when it sometimes seems that we can’t get to where we want to be.

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Patience. Middlebridge JAL

There was a sailing ship January found trapped with its bow facing the wind, its crew going nowhere. Ah, northern winters – the season of elongated murky nights that beget lackluster days and weeks spent tenderly nursing spirits stuck in the doldrums of lethargy. Exhausted by holiday festivities, January begins the year rather solemnly as if the long, bleak cloud covered days are mourning for days gone past. Some find that their lives seem to stall between the crests of enormous waves. Sailors of northern waters shrug off such feelings of discontentment as the essence of winter. Sailors don’t like being in the irons, when the winds roar and the sails get caught in grip of a grand mal seizure. The ruckus rattles the best of nerves.

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Sailing St. Thomas Aboard Jolly Mon. JAL

Try not to stay stuck in the irons too long for the damage can get very serious very quickly. The wind is going to blow whichever way it wants whenever it wants – so in order to get unstuck you’ve got to push the sails until they catch the wind. Sometimes you’ll need help (mechanical wind). Be bold and ask for assistance to get back in the groove – that’s why boats have crews. Pay attention to the wind, heed the feel of the rudder, and force the boat away from the wind’s fist. The clean snap sails as the hull bites into the waves is the payoff – you are free to go.

Winter gradually passes and yields to spring. Not everyone notices whether it’s winter or summer. Count them as happy people who are immune to seasonal affective disorders and wise enough to apply sunblock.  Take advantage of this month to recover and prepare. So what if winter nights are long? Savor them for dreaming. Imagine during the night and work toward those possibilities by day. January is an open door to the rest of the calendar. The future lying on the other side might hold delightful surprises or great suffering. For some, an open door brings cold drafts and unbidden visitors, a bit like a Hobbit opening up to uninvited guests. Yet to close the portal shuts out the likelihood of partaking in adventures beyond the threshold. Fear what’s beyond the door and you’ll find that being stuck behind the gateway is fearsome. You’ll miss out and be missed. All doors are both exits and entrances – it depends on where you are when one opens. Carpe porta!

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Most pathways begin or end at a doorway. Narragansett Beach JAL

Flotsam, Jetsam, and Lagan

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Box o’ Flotsam. Camden, Maine Photo by JAL

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Knot a good way to start the year. Photo by JAL

Americans celebrate New Years Day with a variety of customs. Some young children are perplexed that their parents who ushered in the New Year with frothy toasts and fireworks a scant half dozen hours earlier spend the day tired, cranky and apathetic about the potential for a wonder-filled year. Some observe New Years Day as a time set aside for televised football marathons and quiet reflection. The most common secular tradition in the western world is to begin the year with a resolution – a promise to do better and become a better person. It’s a banner moment for fitness centers, weight loss programs, AA, educational programs, shrinks, and travel sites.

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Photo Robert De Jong, Flotsam on a Beach at Terschelling, Wadden Sea. Permission granted for use via Wikimedia Commons.

New Years Day is when many long to eliminate flotsam and jetsam from their lives. These are parts of the shipwrecks we captain, crew or come upon during any given year. Flotsam is floating wreckage – stuff aboard during a crisis that was washed into the sea and goes adrift. It can do great harm to other boats that accidently ram it. Flotsam is often toxic and does serious damage to the water and shore. It’s nasty stuff to encounter.

Jetsam is a form of prayer in action. Sailors shuck it. Beachcombers seek it. Jetsam consists of parts of a ship or its cargo that we purposely throw overboard (regardless of its monetary or sentimental value) in a last ditch attempt to lighten the load and Save Our Ship. Eventually it’s washed ashore and depending on what it is becomes either a hazard or a treasure.

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Courtesy RMS Titanic

Jetsam and flotsam are surface things. Not everything flung overboard floats. Some of the lost goods and boat parts sink to the bottom. Among the wreckage is Lagan. These are things once lost that can be recovered and saved. A certain degree of foresight and knowing where you are during the crisis are key to savaging parts of the wreck. Whether it’s marked by a GPS positioning from a May Day distress call or by a buoy what’s important is that Lagan can come up from the deep to the surface and be reclaimed. Lagan keeps its worth and meaning.

New Years Day is a good time to express gratitude for surviving the past year’s storms. It is a day when hope springs for prosperity, health, and serenity across the days ahead. Springs support life. We know them by what we see not from where they came. Springs are bodies of fresh water come from deep underground, far below the surface. Springs and lagans are not tainted by the flotsam and jetsam of old wrecks. Springs are clean. Fresh water is essential for life. Lagans can be re-used in good ways. Lagans remind us that all is not always lost – sometimes it just seems that way from the surface. Seize this day and greet 2015 with a fresh water toast– a token to the belief that hope for safe passage and salvaging lagans springs eternal.

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Round Spring, Missouri Ozarks Riverways near Eminence. Photo by JAL

Run Aground

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M/V Kent Reliant grounded on a reef. Photo courtesy of response.restoration.noaa.gov. File from Public Domain.

A third of all commercial ship accidents are caused by running aground. That means the vessels connected to the bottom of shallow water. They get stuck. That’s when bad goes to worse – changing tides and currents batter the boat. If there was damage done to the hull by whatever was on the bottom – while the boat can’t really sink, after all it is on the bottom – it is in danger of becoming ship wrecked. Running aground is an accident – whether it was caused by tide, poor visibility, or waves, at a given moment the water isn’t deep enough to float the boat. The ship and crew are in trouble. It’s rarely an option to get out and push the boat into deeper water or swim to shore. Without help or divine providence the potential for loss is great.

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Photo courtesy Amazon.com

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Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Most recreational boats that run aground cause little or no damage to the crew. The number one killer of boaters is excessive alcohol use. Booze trumps bad weather, hazardous waters, and not paying attention to where the boat is or who’s on board. Drinking at the helm of a boat is not an accident – but what happens next is the result of purposeful behavior – and is too often a preventable tragedy.

Festivities during winter holidays have a perilous downside with the power to sink relationships and drown feelings of comfort and joy. The stream of a tear contains the same salt that makes up vast seas. The last stretch of the calendar is the most hazardous of shipping and sipping lanes. If you’ve hit bottom you can’t sink further – you must get yourself up to the surface. Whether you are sailing solo or huddled in the grand salon of a cruise ship – its safer to act as if the helm is in your hands. Don’t just stand and stare at the water expecting it to take you someplace. It will not reward your anxiety nor gift you with contentment. Don’t expect the sea to rest because you are restless. Exercise moderation and you will become strong enough to navigate though these final days of the year. Pay attention to the currents, sky and shoreline so that you don’t get caught in the shallows.

UnknownThe difference between a holiday ordeal and a holiday adventure is attitude. Just as a compass needle seeks the north – position your feelings to find and move toward good tidings. Be and behave. To seek is not the same as to find – but it’s a start – as bright blue fish Dory said, “When life gets you down do you wanna know what you’ve gotta do?”

JUST KEEP SWIMMING

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A bright blue fish. Foam construction paper fish made with Elle when she was two by JAL.

Quotation from the Movie, Finding Nemo

On, Comet!

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Moby Dick Being Followed by Nantucket Sleigh Ride Much Like Rosetta Chasing Comet 67P

Comet 67P orbits the sun at 85,000 mph. It is more rapid than eagles. Ever since I graduated high school in the summer of ’69 (mid 20th century) when 67P caught some astronomers’ eyes – a bunch of scientists have wanted to sail aboard this chunk of icy rock. They built a ship for sailing 310 million miles across space that “as dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly, when they meet with an obstacle mount to the sky.”[1] They christened the space vessel Rosetta and for a decade its been following Comet 67P like Cat Steven’s Moon Shadow. Rosetta stayed its course to a new port of call. Because of this bold voyage, as Major Tom said while floating in his tin can, “The stars look very different today.”[2]

207152main_vonbraun-kennedy-516JFK, himself an avid sailor, declared space the “final frontier” long before William Shatner’s opening line of Star Trek. Over half a century ago he credited the true grit of pioneers who sacrificed their safety, comfort and sometimes their lives to build our new West. Kennedy praised those who slipped past the boundaries of the now standing St. Louis Arch as people who were not “captives of their own doubts, nor prisoners of their own price tags.”[3]

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Star Ship Enterprise Photo courtesy Wikipedia

Why bother with an expensive rodeo ride on a chunk of star dust? Easy answer; because there are so many unanswered questions about our world. Are we alone? Is any body out there? Buehler?

And there’s another thing earthlings don’t know. What one sees of our planet from space is mostly water, and what physicians know makes up a human being is, mostly water. JFK was at the 1962 America Cup Race when he explained, “All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears.” Where does all that salt and water come from? Scientists think that just maybe water came to Planet Earth from space – riding a comet just like 67P.

Naming space ships is as sacred an honor as naming any boat on earth. Yesterday, Rosetta sent its dinghy, Philae to set its harpoons into 67P’s rocky surface and begin the ultimate Nantucket sleigh ride, “On, Comet!” Rosetta was named for an inscribed piece of volcanic rock – that’s a stone that once flowed like water from a fiery hell – that allowed scientists to crack a language code and read Egypt’s past. Philae was named for the island on the Nile River where the obliesk was found. Today it’s anchored on an island in the sky. What code will it crack? Who could we come to know? What has flowed into our lives via comets just like 67P?

It’s good to know that there are still pioneers on earth willing explore the New Frontier because it’s here whether we chase moon shadows, play space cowboys, or cower in the dark. It is comforting to know that science still probes the mysteries of the heavens despite the hefty price tags only Richard Branson can afford. A better understanding of a single virgin comet may help humankind better understand why it is that “when we go back to the sea — whether it is to sail or to watch it — we are going back from whence we came.”[4]

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From sea to shining sea

[1] David Bowie, 1969, Space Oddity

[2] Clement Moore, 1882, A Visit From St. Nicholas

[3] John F. Kennedy, 1960

[4] John F. Kennedy, 1962

Gone with the Flow

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Anchor Yankers Island Island Closing. JAL

Imagine doing something just for the sake of doing it. You’re in the zone. You are going with the flow. Time fades and your entire being gets into whatever it is you are doing. The moment is prized and you hardly notice that your body and mind are stretched to their limits. The flow is you.

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DW’s idea of a river dance. Port Charles to AYI.

Saturday I hitched a ride up river on our friend DW’s power boat. I arrived at the harbor and found him on the dock, relaxed as he savored a hot tumbler of coffee. When I apologized for being a couple of minutes late he grinned, “We’re on River Time.”

His 24’ Cobia stirred up a mess of Chinese carp before pointing upstream, getting down on plane and ripping through the current. The shoreline was ablaze with orange, crimson, and golden foliage. The channel shined beneath the low-slung sun as a purloined trove of Cartier’s finest diamonds.

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Pavillion @ Anchor Yankers End of a Season. JAL

Time like a river flows. Boats allow us to flow with time in ways that can’t be measured by Rolexes. Watching a bald eagle soar above the river for just a few moments is a vision that can endure in memory over a lifetime. Being with the flow resets our heads to moments in life when age is irrelevant. Age is trumped by the joyful sensation of being alive. The past is left in our wake the future lies at the bow. We float with Now. Regardless of the number of candles on the last cake – being on the water resets our internal sense of time. We are forever young.

Our cruise back to port was brief as the boat bit into the groove and sped down the channel. My mind absorbed the crisp fall air, glare of the sun, and brilliant foliage reflected off the calmer waters. My knees flexed to absorb the shock of crossing over wakes. Crows dug their feet into the creases of my eyes and lips as I squinted and grinned into the wind. Water, land, wind, and sun were transformed into a memory that will last longer then the time yet to pass between laying up for winter and next year’s boating season.

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Ralph, Jeri, Big G Last Sail of 2014 on Ex Libris

The Imelda Marcos of Boat Shoes

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Call Me

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Imelda’s Tootsie Keepers

           Last year the world shuddered at the news of Dictator First Lady in Exile Imelda Marcos’ tragic loss of her entire collection of 3,000 shoes. Among the lost soles are a pair of white Pierre Cardin heels. Termites ate them and mold rotted their perky little heels. Her fame was due less than her role as Dictator First Lady than her reputation as the epitome of excess in the Philippines. In her words, “I really had no great love for shoes. I was a working First Lady; I was always in canvas shoes. I did nurture the shoes industry of the Philippines, and so every time there was a shoe fair, I would receive a pair of shoes as a token of gratitude.”

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A Shoe for All Seasons

I understand. Every time I go to a boat show, a ship’s chandlery, or pass a Sperry Topsiders’ store, I seem to acquire a new pair of boat shoes. My collection is up to 46 shoes. Less than Imelda’s but 44 more than Mary Ellen’s and she’s a live aboard sailor. I have seasonal favorites, beginning with my spring bamboo woven pink flowers on tan, pink & pale pink two-eyes, darker pink three-eyes, and preppy one-eyed pink, white, and emerald green. When hot weather comes and I’m not wearing flip flops (two pair are Topsiders) the seasonal fare includes yellow, light blue, tan, and light blue, Nantucket red, and madras canvass. Fall brings on the hounds tooth and corduroy, camouflage green, Black Watch canvass and cordovan (cute little anchors tooled in the leather). By winter I’m ready to slip into sturdy Blue Fish standards, a snugly pair with furry lining, or my new Navy blue boots with the really cool medallions.

I went to a Women on Water seminar (St. Louis Sail & Paddle) last Saturday (they don’t stock boat shoes). The theme was that women are from Venus, Men are from Mars, and most sail boats are Captained by human beings that pee standing up. Women were encouraged that it was not necessary to “grow a pair” to command a vessel. However, they should learn all aspects of sailing so that if Captain Bligh is knocked over board by a rogue boom that the woman may or may not have been responsible for securing, said woman will have options. Well, the presenter might not have said or implied this but my take away is:  confident sailing women who know the ropes (and sails, and navigation, etc) can and should take charge when they want to because they can. For example, if a woman practices how to do a Man Overboard maneuver; she knows how to conduct a rescue. She’s also got the chutzpah to toss a life ring and circle around the sodden, misogynic, control freak a couple of times reminding the soaking Captain Testosterone that a woman’s independence is a strength and if he doesn’t get it he can swim to shore.

The Ex Libris is docked in a gender-balanced harbor, probably more Uranus than Mars or Venus. All of my female dock friends are on their first marriages and can sail. Most are proficient at the helm or as crew. Crew is anyone saddled with the job of hoisting and tuning the sails, taming the wind, yanking the lines every time the wind changes or you want to change course. Frankly, lugging a huge sail up a 50’ mast is not my idea of recreation – hence, George serves as the crew or, Deck Monkey. We women eschew being, smelling like or working as hard as a Deck Monkey. We like taking the helm and we don’t bark orders. That’s what’s different about River Rat Winch Wenches – we don’t ask any man for power– we take it.

5Logo We also like fashion and accessories (custom embroidered shirts, hatbands, and jackets) to embellish the jargon laden sport of sailing. Some women decorate their cabins with nautical tchotchkes and wear nautical styles of jewelry. I decorate my feet. Deck shoes serve as a function, an amusement, a fashion (lack there of), and a secure platform to walk on slippery decks. My collection is probably 25 years old. By rotating through the seasons and flip flopping most of the summer –  deck shoes really don’t wear out. And, like my jeans, striped shirts, patch madras Bermuda shorts, embroidered caps, emerald green slacks, and pink oxford Polo shirts – they never really go out of style. The thing is my shoes fit me and acknowledge my passion for the sea and all things boats. George just smiles and compliments my shoe-thing and is content to be First Mate.  He’s pretty confident that should he ever fall overboard his Captain wouldn’t circle three times before hauling him back on board.