Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Chapter From My Memoir

Glen Ellen, California 

I've been working somewhat diligently on my book, likely named Land & Sea A Memoir. I was spurred to write by a senior project I must complete for my graduation from Dominican University in May. Once I learned how easy it is to publish, I thought, why not? I've got a story to tell. Below is a little sample of what I've been up to.

Photo Credit Jim Patterson Photography

Chapter XX It’s Turn Key
Boats are a funny thing. Men especially become neurotically attached to these floating affairs. Many become enamored with the dream of sailing around the world. Stroll the docks of any marina and you will see beautiful sailing boats, tricked out with every offshore amenity known to mankind. This is why sailors are fond of saying “You know what boat stands for? Break Out Another Thousand.” Everyone gets a good belly roll out of that well trammeled joke. Like all popular jokes and stereotypes they have a modicum of truth. Once the intention is set to head offshore for a long world-wide sojourn, a low-grade mental illness can set it. The lure of the sea is indeed powerful, and may be imbedded in the male human DNA.

Christa bobbed peacefully in her slip in Vallejo California just waiting to be loved by me. I knew right away that she was meant for me. The hatch was locked when I stepped aboard alone. So I jimmied the center hatch, and dropped through. Sitting in the cabin, with the California sun shinning through the port holes, new varnish gleaming, I felt her presence. She just spoke to me. I did a bit of a scumbag thing that I do regret. I found Christa listed on a yacht brokers flyer, and then proceeded to cut the broker out of the picture. A little detective work on my part revealed the owner, who had listed the boat with the broker but also in an advertisement on a website. It is somewhat of an ethical conflict, but I stood to save a few thousand dollars by dealing directly with the owner. Since it was listed both privately and with a firm, it injected just enough ambiguity for me so I chose the cheaper option. Once Christa whispered so sweetly to me, I contacted my buddy Jerry who was a master negotiator given his ownership of car dealerships, and I asked him to keep me from doing something stupid as my emotions were running high.

The couple, or more accurately, the former couple I bought from, immediately went into a relationship death spiral upon their purchase of Christa.  Tim, a manager of a supermarket, like me had been ardently thumbing through sailing magazines, searing visions of dancing trade winds in his brain. Veronica, his beloved, just went along with her lover’s sailing dreams, plus she loved to decorate, and went into a spasm of interior design giving Christa a feminine touch. Two hours after they took delivery of Christa, the engine seized on the Sacramento River. Tim had wiped out his 401K to buy Christa, he then spent another $9500 installing a beautiful new 51 horse 4 cylinder Yanmar diesel to replace the irreparable original. While Tim tinkered, turned wrenches and hemorrhaged money, Veronica made cushions and pretty shades with tropical fish themes. As time dragged on, and Tim continued to bloody his knuckles in the engine room, Veronica tackled the enormous job of varnishing the entire interior. Once Tim had finished installing the Yanmar, the couple, now less happy and a bit strained, decided it was time for a sail. They proceeded out to San Francisco Bay, and immediately accidently jibed the boat in a typical blustery northern California day. The enormous mainsail came thundering across, nearly ripping their heads square off, came taut on the cinched in boomvang snapping the boom in half. Wuups, there goes another two grand. At the time, while sitting alone on the settee contemplating ownership of Christa, I knew nothing of these details. I just knew she shined, seemed well loved and cared for. Jerry did a brilliant job of negotiating. It was during the original negotiation where it became apparent all was not well with Tim and Veronica’s relationship. I started to get that weird feeling, that vibe thing that Californians speak about incessantly. Maybe Christa had been tainted? After all sailors are a superstitious lot, me included. I made sure no sailing or negotiating took place on a Friday to keep Neptune at bay. It seemed their relationship rancor had been triggered by the purchase of Christa. In fact, Veronica was not even on the boat with Jerry, Tim and me during the negotiations. Each time, we came to a number, Tim would go out on the dock, call Veronica, and engage in telephone combat, usually not relevant to the boat. They decided to cut losses, and sold the boat for $2,000 more than he and Veronica originally paid.
Once we settled on a figure, we had to go for the test sail. On test day, not a Friday mind you, dawned bright and shiny. Veronica showed up in her slicker, yellow boots, and sailing gloves. Jerry left this portion of the transaction to me. After all Jerry had a sensitive ticker with a recent triple by-pass on his resume. Veronica was very sweet. In fact, she decided in all her dreamy sweetness that I might want to know how to tie a bowline knot before we shoved off. Just as she began to teach me this skill she learned in a boating safety class, apparently a class they took together, Tim exploded on her in a verbal assault about how I’m in the Coast Guard and probably know fifty thousand knots. She replied, “Stop yelling at me!” Oy vey. Tim was eager to show me how that new Yanmar performed, and admittedly I was pretty excited about the engine myself. It was becoming apparent to me that Tim was like many boaters, he loved to tinker around on his boat, but when it came down to the actual sailing part, well he just wasn’t that into it, and labored to cover up this dark secret up. He talked a solid game though. He kept repeating, “It’s turnkey; it’s turnkey.” In fact to this day, when I fire up the diesel I still repeat “It’s turn-key.” Turn the key he did, and then he backed out of the slip at full throttle, shifted the rudder, and then popped it into forward gear, again at full throttle to demonstrate how 51 horses of Yanmar performs. This was his signature move, one he had down cold. I was a stunned. Professional seaman are taught to maneuver with as little power as necessary, so you can have some juice in reserve just in case things get tight. Tim must have missed this in boating safety class, and all I could come up with was, “Well Tim, its turnkey.” He beamed and nodded “yeah yeah.”
As we nosed out onto San Pablo Bay, Veronica kept her distance on the bow as Tim piloted us out the channel at full bore, ever more resembling Captain Bligh. He barked at Veronica to stow the lines and remove the mainsail cover. Veronica was visibly upset, on the verge of gushing tears, when Bligh centered up Christa’s nose to the wind, in the middle of the shipping lane, and issued orders to “Raise the main.” It was painful to watch. Neither had a clue what they were doing. Veronica was not strong enough to hoist the main, nor did she have a winch handle to assist. I stepped in and hoisted the main just in time for a tanker to come bearing down upon us. I saw the tanker moons ago, but didn’t say anything as I was just supposed sit back and relax. This is when Tim performed his other signature move, an unintended jibe. The main became back winded, and with the force of two tectonic plates colliding whipped from port to starboard with an enormous bang. Tim, acting as if he meant to do this, and proud of how that new $2,000 boom didn’t snap in half shouted to Veronica, “Prepare to set the jib.” Veronica replied, “Stop yelling at me.” I thought “Oh no…some push back at a time like this.” Bligh replies with “What the fuck is wrong with you?” Veronica is now crying, and then Tim turns to me and says in a raised tone “What the fuck is wrong with her?” I replied, “I’m not emotionally involved,” and Tim snarls back at me “WELL I AM!!” I gently let Tim and Veronica know I’d seen enough of the sails, and that there was no need to hoist more sail. Tim, visibly relieved, reached for the key, and fired up the diesel and says, “It’s turnkey.” Apparently Veronica and Tim’s relationship was not so “turnkey.” 

Capt C


ljrmisty said...

Good God Man! Suddenly I don't feel so all alone. I have followed you since your first pictures in Lat38 and your travels since. I own Misty Hull #37. The very first Westsail ever built. (1 thru 36 were Kendalls). I came by her almost the same as you. The salesman was a jerk and I "broke into" her to rifle the owners address. When he opened the door to his house in San Jose, I was sure I was about to be shot, as I told the truth, and wanted to deal with him, only. 14 years later, Misty has been my home, and my savior.
You hit the nail on the head about relationships and intent.
I am also one of the last to have gone through Boot Camp @ Coast Guard Island in Alameda, 42 years ago.
I have failed in my life in so many ways, but you continue to be an inspiration to me. The value in seeking a new horizon, and improving ones life is a refreshing elixir to this old man.
Keep going with the blogs. You are well regarded by this follower

Christian Allaire said...


I really appreciate your kind words and encouragement! That's a great story. Maybe you should start a blog? I have met a couple of old salts who went to Boot Camp on Coast Guard Island. Place has changed a bit, but one thing is for sure, for many thousands, Coast Guard Island holds such deeply etched memories. Coming back from a four month Alaskan patrol, and spying the Island at the turn in the channel abeam Jack London Square was always a thrill. Memory is a tricky thing. I've only been retired for a short time, but already the good times are beginning to erase the bad. Maybe that is the best thing about aging, one naturally tamps down regret.

Thank you for your readership, it is appreciated greatly.

Kind regards,