Monday, August 21, 2006

Home Before Dark

And it felt like a luxury, too. Once the heat wave broke, we started having some wonderful summer weather, and that's been making me want to play outside - or work outside, as has been more the case. Seems like everyone at the Really Big Children's Publishing House is on vacation - and the part-time job seems a little short-handed, too, I've been working pretty much as many hours a week on the schooner as I can without getting too exhausted. This has actually entailed - gasp? - turning down sailing time.

Sound bizarre?

Well, remember how I commented on how the freedom from schedule on that Wednesday night full-moon sail made me really appreciate sailing for fun, instead of work?

Well, here's been the last couple Sundays for me:

10 am - head for the subway. 11 am - eat extremely large, unhealthy breakfast at favorite diner (the waiters all know me there) while reading paper. Sounds awful I know - thing is, if I stuff myself at the start of the day, that generally fuels me up to the point where just some fruit before the 6:00 and the 8:30 keeps me going, then I'll have something more solid when I get home.

11:30 am - Get to boat & GET TO WORK! Pull boarding steps up to boat, open the boat, stow the sliding cover & the padlocks from the companionway. Check bilges for water. If it rained the night before, stow the raingear that's been hung out to dry in the salon. Drain coolers (resultant buckets of water get hauled up the companionway & dumped over the side. Stock coolers. Get ice for coolers. Stock table where beverages are stored - if that's well stocked, keeping the coolers full all day is easy. This does involve going inside an airless metal barge & hauling around cases of drinks. Very sweat-inducing on a sticky day - I'm usually wearing a t-shirt for the set-up that I'll change out of just before the passengers board. Clean salon, clean head. Engine check. If it's rained, raise the main & fore, they always catch rain & you don't want to dump a sailful of water on the passengers. Hose decks, cabin tops & cockpit. Scrub decks, cabin tops & cockpits. Squeegee same & dry with chamois. Stow cleaning supplies. Put out cushions. There, all ready. Change from sweaty cleaning shirt into clean crew polo (too bad you can't do anything about sweaty you). Oops, sunscreen, if you forgot that earlier. Try to get hair looking half decent. Try to get you looking half decent. Yeesh.

If you're lucky & everything's gone well, you've got 10 or 15 minutes to sit down, drink some water, use the "land head", chat, and otherwise compose yourself.

12:55 - Captain says "Ready for boarding?" Crew says "Youbetcha!" or something like that. Here they come. "Welcome aboard! Welcome aboard! Watch your step. Here, let me take that. Would you like that stowed down below? Welcome aboard! Welcome aboard! I'm sorry, this is a wooden boat & we don't allow smoking, please put that out before you come aboard. Welcome aboard! Here, you can take my hand, just step on the nonskid there...great! You can sit anywhere that's white or green...ALL the seats are good! Here, can I take that...etc etc etc..."

1:00 Captain's safety speech time - sometimes also given by a crew member if the boat's full. Concepts to introduce in 5 minutes or less, all important: Availibility of lifejackets. Moving around safely on a boat. Where they can sit. Where they can't sit. Where they can't go, period. Finickiness of marine heads. Absolutely no self-service of drinks, crew must serve. Parents must be with children at all times. What booms do to unwary heads (people heads, not finicky marine heads). Yes, of course we use the obvious pun (but did you know that "boom" is from the Norwegian word for tree?). Got it? Great, let's go sailing!

While speech is going on, crew's been readying for departure - gate latched, boarding steps pulled away, stowing large bags & baby strollers & what have you down below. One line is looped onto one horn of a cleat, all others cast off by a crew member on the dock, crew member gets aboard as the bow presses in and the stern swings out, signals the feet from the barge to the bobstay (which we like intact), and makes sure that the line slips off the cleat as the captain starts to back out...

TOOOOOOT! TOOT! TOOT! TOOT! Look out river, here we come!

Watch at the bow as we move out from between the piers. Signal captain for oncoming traffic. Coil docklines, stow fender (we're down to one now, the rest are on the dock). Check with captain - drinks first or sails first? In whichever order the captain says, raise sails (4 of 'em!) and get a round of drinks out. I'd say that's usually all done by 1:30 or so (faster if we've got 3 crew on board). Coil halyards and...oh, boy. The heavy work is done & now comes the fun part. Stand watch, sail the boat, schmooze, make sure people are having fun. Talk-story about the harbor if somebody wants stories. If people want to talk quietly among themselves, or sprawl out on the cabin top & doze, leave 'em alone. Part of the fun is sort of figuring out the rhythm of the group & interacting appropriately. Tell about our boat, tell about the other boats in the harbor, talk about the harbor seals and porpoises (and now the manatee!), point out the sights to the tourists, leave the smoochers alone. Keep an eagle eye on the antsier kids. And sail! Woo hoo! Right by the Statue, let's see how close the skipper can shave the security zone buoys this time - ten feet! excellent (I love to tell people that we're as close as we're legally allowed to be).

In the meantime, make sure that folks are following our rules. No wind can definitely put a damper on things as we end up motoring instead of sailing (which makes all the sweat of raising the sails feel pointless, except that it just looks better), but nothing spoils the time between the raising of the sails and the dropping of the sails like people who don't think our rules should apply to them. Think the things that irritate us (and scare us) the most are people who don't attend to their children, and people who mistake us for a booze cruise & think it's funny to help themselves when we won't bring 'em a fresh beer every 5 minutes. You might think that a seasick passenger could also bring things down - it does, but in a very different way, them we just worry about & are sorry they aren't having fun.

If it's a large & thirsty crowd on a hot day, and you have time, you usually restock coolers. If spills happen, you clean 'em up. Basically, you try to keep the boat looking nice. You check the head a couple of times during the trip to make sure it's still working (if it's not, the half-hour between sails is going to be yucky 'cause you'll have to unclog it).

And oh yeah, you drink water. You make sure your crewmate(s) is/are drinking water. They make sure you are drinking water. Everybody makes sure the captain has water. Sometimes you sweat so hard you don't feel like you can drink enough water.

2:45, we go back into getting-things-done mode. Sails are dropped. Empties are collected. Docklines are reset, the fender is put on, and as we make our approach to Pier 62, we request the passengers to please make sure they remain seated until the captain has turned off the seat belt I mean until the captain has turned off the motor and stepped out from behind the wheel...

Just before 3:00 - hand signals again, bobstay to dock in feet, given by crew on the foredeck (that's why we ask the passengers to stay seated, captain's got to see those & then any signals the crew that's cleating off the docklines gives) - 50 - 40 - 30 - 20 - 10 - 5-4-3-2-2-3-4 - the foot count goes up as the skipper swings the stern in - the other crew person steps off the stern & starts making off the lines as the on-board crew passes the docklines to them - then while the on-dock crew person & the captain attend to the final adjustments, the on-board crew person brings up everything that was stowed down below, and oh yes very important the tip bag -

Boarding steps are swung back into place, gate opened, captain steps away from the wheel & gives a final little thank-you speech, and then the passengers debark - "Thanks for sailing with us! Thanks for sailing with us! Enjoy the rest of your day! Thanks for sailing with us! Hey, nice driving! Enjoy the rest of your day..." -

By the time the last person's off the boat, there's about 25 minutes to reset and the captain and crew springs into action!! Take out the trash, stock the coolers, fetch the ice, clean anything that needs to be cleaned, check the head to make sure it's still pumping OK. Wolf down some food if hungry (for me, on a hot day like this last Sunday was, all I wanted was fruit - watermelon before the 3rd sail, an orange before the 4th - that's the idea behind the enormous unhealthy breakfast, I start with that & then I can eat light the rest of the day).

And before you know it, it's 3:25 and the captain's saying "Are we ready to board"?

And you repeat the whole process 3 more times.

Of course every sail's a little different. Same as every time I go paddling - I may be covering the same ground - but it's not the same. You have different passengers, the conditions can change - maybe 2 sails, the sailing is magnificent, and the skipper's grinning like a maniac and the passengers are whooping with joy, then on the 3rd the wind craps out completely and you motor the whole way, then the 8:30 is just a nice gentle breeze, and the passengers are hushed, speaking in murmers (and that's the one where you get the couples on dates getting all lovebirdy - the 6:00 is the sunset trip, the 8:00 you get the drama of the city lights -

It's a funny balance of wonderful, sublime, fantastic moments on a beautiful boat, and sheer hard manual labor. I worked from 7:00 until midnight on Saturday; 11:30 am until 11 pm on Sunday - I'll be working one sail Wednesday, two on Thursday -

I love working on the schooner but I'll be glad when the out of town folks get back. As it is, I've been turning down some work anyways - I try not to let the amount of schooner work I do get to the quantity where the work side starts to subsume the sublime.

Getting pretty close now - but not there yet & don't plan to let myself get there. That's one nice thing about not being a twentysomething - learning where your limits are; and even more, learning how to do something you love, but with enough moderation that you keep loving it.

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