August 15, 2010

Any port in a storm

(The Mainly about Boats column — every Monday, Wednesday, Friday.)

AFTER A LATE POTLUCK SUPPER and plenty of beers on the beach at Shallow Bay, Sam and Dora were invited to Marty and Agatha’s Baba 30 for a nightcap. The anchorage at Sucia Island, one of the loveliest of the San Juans in Washington state, was crowded, as usual, but quiet. A large yellow moon was climbing up behind the fringe of tall Oregon pines.
Marty greeted them from the cockpit, waving a bottle. “Port and cheese to end the evening,” he announced cheerfully, “very civilized.”
“Haven’t tried port,” Sam admitted, helping Dora climb aboard.
“You don’t have a bottle of port aboard?” said Fred incredulously. “I thought every boat carried port. It’s the only wine that improves with travel.”
“Nothing improves with travel on a Catalina 27,” said Dora. “Specially cheese.”
“We’ll have a wine tasting,” Fred announced. “Teach you all about port.”
“Port’s not wine,” said Sam.
“Yes, it is. It’s port wine,” said Agatha, swaying slightly.
“Portifed wine. I’ve heard of that,” said Dora, smiling brightly.
“Not portified, fortified,” Fred insisted. “You’ve heard of fortified wine.”
Dora stared him straight in the eye. “I know what I’ve heard of,” she declared. “You don’t.”
“That's right,” said Sam, “how can you know what my wife’s heard of?”
“Everybody’s heard of fortified,” said Fred. “It’s ten before fiftified.”
Luckily, they all thought that was very funny, not to mention quite clever, and slapped their thighs.
Fred poured large amounts of Warre’s Warrior into glasses and placed a bucket on the floor. Agatha passed around plates of crackers to deaden their palates between sips.
“This is very posh,” said Dora, whose right eyebrow had begun to twitch slightly. “Such a lovely boat, too.”
Fred picked up his glass. “Swirl, sniff, and test the aroma,” he said.
“I thought aroma was the capital of Italy,” said Sam.
“Spaghetti would go quite nicely with this, wouldn’t it?” said Dora.
“No, no it’s an old Perry Como song,” said Agatha.
“What? Spaghetti?”
“No, no, aroma. Arrivederci Aroma, goodbye, goodbye to something ...”
“Concentrate,” said Fred. “Take a small sip, swirl it in your mouth and then spit it in the bucket. What do you taste?”
“Mmmm,” said Agatha. “It’s corpulent, rich and round, with hints of licorice and raspberry.”
Fred held his glass up to the light. “Yes, elegant, no hard edges, the flavor lingers on the palate.”
“It’s like ink,” said Sam. “You ever tasted ink? I sucked some out of a ballpoint pen once.”
“You swallowed your port,” said Agatha accusingly. “You didn’t spit it in the bucket.”
“Can’t help it. Reflex action. I’m a gulper, not a sipper.”
“Well, let’s all gulp then,” said Fred. “And we’ll try again.”
By the time they were halfway through the second bottle, Fred had trouble pouring straight, and Dora’s eyebrow was dancing out of control. Sam complained that his leg was going numb and Agatha could hardly stop giggling.
“Velvety mouth feel,” said Fred, insisting on continuing the lesson, “but it has no lips.”
“What do you mean, lips?” said Dora, smacking hers.
Fred got in quickly. “Lips,” he said, “are to stop your mouth fraying at the edges.” He laughed uproariously at his own joke.
Sam ignored him. “I can do this fancy wine-tasting stuff,” he announced. “This port is elegant. No hard edges.”
“Just like my lips,” said Dora, nuzzling him.
“Concentrate,” said Fred. “When I say it has no lips I mean, well let me put it this way – what flavors can you taste? Quince, raspberry, oak, currants?”
“I thought port was a sailor’s wine,” said Sam. “I think I can taste seaweed, eelgrass, smoked salmon, and mussels.”
“Muscles?” cried Fred, “Muscles don’t have a taste. Muscles is what weightlifters have.”
“Jeez you dummy,” said Sam. “Mussels, not muscles. Shellfish.”
“Shellfish in your wine?” said Dora, holding her stomach. “Like oysters?”
“Okay, okay,” said Fred, “I think you’ve had enough to drink. You’re all blurred around the edges already.”
“I’m sleeping here tonight,” Sam announced suddenly.
“No you’re not,” said Agatha. And she meant it.
For some reason associated with too much port, or perhaps because his leg was still numb, Sam couldn’t start the outboard on their little inflatable, so he got out the oars. The yachts at anchor were black silhouettes against a moonlit bank of white clouds.
Sam stopped rowing a split second before the dinghy crashed into the stern of the yacht. He stood up carefully.
“Jeez,” he said, “somebody stole our boarding ladder. Can you believe ...”
A startled face, pale in the moonlight, appeared in the companionway. It said: “What the hell ...?”
“Burglars!” yelled Sam. “Dora, gimme an oar quick!”
“Shut up you fool,” said Dora. Her eyebrow was twitching nonstop. “Get back down here. And start rowing. We’re two boats over.”

Today’s Thought
To buy very good wine nowadays requires only money. To serve it to your guests is a sign of fatigue.
— William F. Buckley Jr, Harper’s Bazaar, Sep 79

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb #83
Distribution of fog. In U.S. waters, the rule is that the frequency of fog diminishes as you move from north to south — but the change is quicker on the Atlantic Coast than on the Pacific Coast. For example, San Diego and Los Angeles have about three times as much fog as places at the same latitudes on the Atlantic Coast. The foggiest of the foggy places, countrywide, are the coast of Northern California and the coast of Maine, with frequencies of about 20 percent of the year.

“So did you find a good math tutor?”
“Yeah, he’s so good at math even his teeth have square roots.”

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