January 23, 2014

On being driven nuts

HERE’S ANOTHER in the ongoing series:

The Disease Called Cruising

3. The Sin of the Lurcher

My watchmate Nick turned out to be a lurcher. Nick was easy-going, friendly, optimistic, and confident. A wonderful person to sail with. Except for one thing. He lurched.

In his happy-go-lucky way, he never wore a safety harness, even when our light-displacement 33-footer was hopping over waves as busily as a one-legged man in an arse-kicking contest. Nick rarely hung on to anything when he walked on deck, or in the cabin below.

The rest of us scrambled or crawled everywhere in fresh weather, clinging to whatever handhold presented itself. But Nick moved in a series of partially controlled lurches. He nearly drove me crazy.

Sometimes, when he was on his way back to the cockpit from the foredeck, he’d be thrown, tottering, to the edge of the cabintop, where he would blithely let his guardian angel take charge.

Always, the boat rocked back the other way just in time, and Nick would make another lurch in the general direction he was aiming at.

He would take his mid-watch pee at the leeward shrouds and never hang on.  I showed him how to do it, arm curled around the shrouds. One hand for the boat, one hand for the family jewels. But no, it simply never occurred to him that he might be flung overboard.

He would come back along the sidedeck carrying a sailbag over his head, in an erratic series of lurches whose length and timing seemed destined to end in his being catapulted over the stern. And then he’d thump down next to you in the cockpit with that silly friendly grin on his face, and what could you say that you hadn’t said a hundred times before?

“If you go overboard, you’re dead,” we’d say. “We’re hundreds of miles from the nearest land and out of the shipping lanes. How long do you think it would take us to drop the spinnaker and come back to find you?”

Nick would sit down quietly and seriously and try to work it out.

“Never mind how long!” we’d snap impatiently. “The exact time doesn’t matter. The point is, you don’t stand much of a chance of being picked up. How are we going to explain it to your widow?”

Nick would look contrite for a few hours and crawl ponderously around the deck like a hippo stuck in a mud hole.

But once a lurcher, always a lurcher. Before you knew it, he’d be staggering around the foredeck again, holding the spinnaker pole above his head in mid-jibe, teetering and swaying like a drunken ballet dancer.

Somebody Up There was obviously keeping an eye on Nick. He never fell overboard. He just drove us crazy.

I like to think he drove us nuts because we were concerned about his welfare, but it could also have been because Nick, with his smiles and his infinite faith, with his swashbuckling lurches and his devil-may-care attitude, made the rest of us look and feel like clinging, gutless wimps.

Nice as a man might be otherwise, it’s hard to forgive him a sin like that.

Today’s Thought

When you put to sea in your own boat, you become a different and, for the time being at least, a better man.

— James S. Pitkin


“Life’s not fair.”

“What’s your problem?”

“I want to know why my sister has three brothers and I have only two.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Edward said...

But naturally there will be that little bit of schadenfreude when one day you hear he was lost at sea.

John Vigor said...

I understand what you mean, Edward, but I hope it never comes to that, and, if it did, I hope I would feel deep sorrow, not schadenfreude.

Nick and his wife are still cruising, and I think he has gotten a little more cautious at the urging of his wife.

John V.