Monday, March 8, 2010

The Wall Street Skipper

March 8, 2010
Elizabeth Harbour, Georgetown, Exumas

The voice on the radio, as clear as it was, had an edge to it.  We knew that voice.

"Yeah, Ken" it transmitted "I have an item for the net but I don't where it fits".  Ken, who moderates the morning radio network in Georgetown, quickly assigned the voice a spot on the Boaters General segment of the morning net cast and carried on to other calls.  Obviously Ken was unaffected by the call.  Just another boater looking to buy or sell.

On Meredith recognition of the voice had an immediate and unusual effect.  Bob and Alice were in Georgetown.  How in the name of whatever deity whose name you invoke in those dark moments did these two get here?

Memory of our first meeting with the catamaran captained by Bob and Alice was still fresh, like a wound. 

Meredith had just extricated herself from the mud after spending a night in the mud at the Deep Creek Lock, Dismal Swamp.  Most of the night we were heeled over at 15 to 20 degree, our full length keel deeply embedded in Virginia mud.  Overnight our poor boat had drifted into some shallows and when the tide went out found herself in inadequate depth.   We had missed the first opening of the lock waiting for more flood tide to finish floating our vessel.  Mood on board was brittle and at times darker than the mud in which we had found ourselves.

The process had however left us first in line for the second opening of the Deep Creek Lock, gateway to the Dismal Swamp which would carry us from Norfolk VA to the Pasquotank River and on to Elizabeth City.

By lock opening a good number of vessels, about 12, found themselves lined up to get a spot in the lock.  It was looking like there might not be enough room in the lock to accommodate all the waiting boats.  Someone, it seemed, was going to have to wait 4 hours for the 3rd locking.  The boats waiting found themselves dancing in strong winds blowing against a combination of tide and river current.  Some boats were having difficulty holding themselves in place waiting for the lock to open.  Tension settled on our little fleet.

It was active duty keeping Meredith pointed forward against cross wind and backed off the lock gates, big ugly steel doors, against the tide pushing us into them.  Our concentration was suddenly broken with the discordant  blat of an air horn followed in short order with some equally discordant yelling.  One almost made out curse words.

Behind us, two vessels back, a large power vessel could be seen turned sideways in the narrow creek.  The skipper had lost the edge of the wind and his bow was being blown the wrong way.  Quick appraisal confirmed the noise was emanating from the control deck of the sidewise trawler.  Normally the skipper would only have to apply some forward power and regain control of his vessel.  It a few short feet he could turn his boat back towards the lock gates.

The trawler captain had obviously tried to do exactly this when his path was filled with the hull of another boat.  The poor trawler guy had no room to manoeuver.  He could not apply forward power without hitting the boat that had intruded into his path.  That second boat, a catamaran, was only 3 or 4 feet from the bow of the trawler. 

The trawler found itself being turned in the wind and roaring towards the boat behind him.    The skipper of the trawler was extremely irritated and maybe a little tense but, on Meredith, we .agreed with both emotions and the tenor of the diatribe issuing from the trawler.

"Sorry" yelled a voice from the catamaran "I am just trying to join up with the next boat.  We are travelling together."

The next boat, being the boat immediately behind us, answered this claim almost instantly.  "The hell you are" was the crisp assertion from the wheel of the boat behind us.  Admittedly, even if the catamaran had been travelling with us and was crewed by our best friends, at that point we might have denied all knowledge of their existence.  However it was clear that there was no affiliation between the two boats. 

Sadly, the catamaran captain was just breaking into line to make sure his boat would get through on the 2nd locking. 
Between ourselves we decried this latest demonstration of what the Americans call "entrepreneurial spirit".  It is much admired here in the 48 states.  Canadians call it unbridled greed and self interest.  We dubbed the captain the "Wall Street Skipper" in keeping with his typically American "I got mine, screw you" mentality.

Once in the lock we gave close scrutiny to the cat.  It was a short cat, obvously old.  Its gelcoat was faded, actually, not only faded but filthy.  Its canvas was gray with age and accumulated filth and runnels of black goo ran down  the sides of the coachhouse and topsides from myriad sources.  The engine on this beast was an old Honda outboard.  It was the loudest outboard I had heard in a long long time.  It sounded out of tune; it ran rough; it had the tenor of a coffee grinder working on old beans.  The control lines for the outboard were frayed and dirty.

When Meredith was three quarters of the way along the Dismal Swamp we decided to tie up at the Visitor Centre.  High winds and unpleasant conditions for anchoring were forecast.  Arriving at the docks at the Centre we neatly docked into the last spot available on the dock and prepared to be rafted to by the boats coming in the line behind.

The Budget Committee set fenders out along our outboard side while I doubled up our spring lines ashore and set spring lines on the outboard cleats.  If a boat was going to raft up to Meredith I would control the positioning and tehe tieing up. 

As the boats came upon the Visitor Centre they made a beeline for the vessels already tied.  One at a time they moved into place and were secured.  As the last boat at the dock ours was the last boat rafted to.  What boat was in line for our rafting.  What else.  The filthy catamaran with the Wall Street Skipper.

Once alongside the skipper tried to tie up using his lines - 1/4 inch nylon laid line.  He was much disconcerted when we refused his lines and forced him to use our 5/8 nylon lines.  His disconcertation grew as we snugged the boats up tight with springs lines as well as bow and stern lines to prevent his hull from moving back and forward against that of Meredith.  The Wall Street Skipper was a shortish middle aged man, semi balding with a sharp beakish nose.  His clothes matched his vessel.  Wall Street was everything we imagined.

We introduced ourselves.  "Hi" said Wall Street, "I'm Bob".  With that Bob hopped over the lifelines carrying his dog and got the little beast to shore so it could take care of business.

"And I'm Alice" came a voice from the salon of the cat.  Following the voice came a dishevelled woman wearing a tee shirt two sized too large.  It was gray with age and inadequate laundering and was covered in stains.  It looked pretty much like my favourite boat shirt.  "I have to get off this boat right NOW" continued this woman.

Alice was a large woman but not apparently very strong.  Her skeleton wore its meat loosely; the flesh more hung on its frame that part of the whole.

"Can you help me?"  asked Alice.  "I have a little trouble with placing my feet".

Closer observation at this remark showed she was shaking, well more oscillating in place than shaking really.  Meredith has some experience with Parkinson's Disease and we suspected this as a cause.

Moving to help the woman Bob yells from shore "Be careful she's blind". 

Getting Alice to shore was a treat.  She talked easily about herself and carried a conversation with ease.  To move her we had to take down our lifelines and then physically lift each foot and place it in a secure landing.  Alice would then move herself with the Budget Committee and I hovering about her to catch if something slipped.  Our concern was excessive.  Alice explained that she was not blind, not very blind anyway. She eschewed help moving across our deck and onto shore except for foot placement.

"I like to do for myself whenever I can" said Alice at one point.  "It slows down the deterioration".  "Well that's what I think anyway, so I do it.  Besides, who wants to be a cripple."

As she came up on shore she thanked us and informed us firmly that she knew the way back and would do just fine on her own.  Bob took her arm and escorted her to the Visitors' Centre so she could take care of the necessary.

Once she was deposited there Bob returned to the boats we had a chance to talk.  He was taking his wife to Florida he told us or maybe the islands.  She loves being on the boat Bob told us about Alice and we have done this trip together in better times.  He loved sailing and so did Alice.  This was their first time motoring down the ICW.  Sailing had become too draining.

As sailors do we got to talking about hazards and good places to anchor and such.  We told them about Factory Creek in Beaufort and about our favourite anchorage in Charleston.  Bob and Alice told us about their island haunts.  We shared a comfortable evening.

Other than that Bob and Alice were private people and kept to themselves.  They did not like to impose on others and did not seek assistance or  comfort from anyone else.  They made their own way. 

We saw them twice more on the Eastern seaboard.  Walking down the street in Beaufort SC with a load of groceries we came on Bob and Alice walking the other way to the laundromat.  They loved Beaufort and Factory Creek. Each day of the 10 days we were in Beaufort we managed to meet this interesting pair on the streets of Beaufort.

Anchored at Charleston who came into the anchorage behind us but Bob and Alice.  It was bad weather when they came in and we waited to visit with them until next morning.  We waited too long. They were up at dawn and gone before we hit the deck.

That was the last we saw of that dirty little catamaran with its noisy little outboard. 

Until Georgetown, Bahamas. 

And we thought we had had a tough time getting here. 

Oh, Bob called the Georgetown radio net to see if anyone had any spare diving weights or even a weight belt. 

He and Alice thought they would like to try diving.

That was yesterday, Sunday.  Today we listened as Bob and Alice announced their departure from Georgetown to tnet at alarge.  We watched them leave regretting we had not had an opportunity to dinghy over for a gam.

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