7. Beer for the Gods
WE CROSSED the equator on April 7 at 2245 hours, 200 miles off Brazil, making directly for the West Indies.
June and I sat in the cockpit of our 31-foot sloop with our 17-year-old son, Kevin, eating delicious chocolates given to us for this special occasion by friends ashore.
By next morning the sea was very confused. Freelance’s motion was violent. Cloud cover was complete and it was raining heavily. Obviously it was time to propitiate the gods, to make sacrifices.
It was the first time any of us had crossed the equator under sail, so a ceremony was called for. I requested the presence of all hands on the foredeck at noon, dressed in bathing suits, but when the time came it was too rough to stand on deck, so we held our crossing-the-the-line ceremony in the cockpit.
I made an eloquent supplication to the gods of the sea and the wind, Neptune and Aeolus, begging for fair weather. It was a moving little oration, even if I say so myself, although Kevin squirmed uncomfortably. Teenage cynicism caused him to have grave doubts about the need to pay homage to ancient Greek and Roman gods, if, indeed they existed at all. He was also afraid that his father was meddling with black magic, with powers beyond his ken.
Nevertheless, he was an obedient (if fidgety) crew, and June was an enthusiastic participant. So I produced the sacrifice — two whole cans of beer from my precious six-pack — and in one swift movement I shook one, ripped it open, and squirted it all over June and Kevin.
They both gasped in surprise. “I never thought I’d see you waste a beer like that,” June spluttered.
I explained how necessary it was. We had to abase ourselves before the gods. And, to prove my sincerity, I cast the other, unopened can into the sea for the gods to enjoy.
Unfortunately, my request to the gods for fair weather went unheeded. In fact, the weather grew steadily worse. The wind blew on our starboard beam at 20 to 25 knots day and night. Under a working jib and a double-reefed mainsail, we plowed on, reeling off 130 to 140 miles a day, with water cascading over the decks.
For 11 days it was unsafe to stand upright outside of the cockpit. We crawled everywhere, awash to the elbows. For 11 days, Kevin looked very grim.
Then the weather eased. Then June was able to cook an unforgettable three-course meal — our belated crossing-the-line dinner. And then Kevin felt free to voice his suspicions.
“I don’t think two beers was enough,” he said, betraying the innocence of one with no concept of the magnitude of the sacrifice involved. “The, um, gods must have thought you were very mean.”
I didn’t try to explain to him how great a sacrifice it is for a beer drinker to hand over two-thirds of his total beer supply to a couple of strangers — two whole beers out of a paltry six available for a 16-day non-stop passage.
“My son,” I said, “it’s not the value of the sacrifice that counts but the sincerity with which it’s offered. If there had been any disbelievers among us — for example, anyone who might have been tempted to scoff at the power of Neptune or Aeolus, or (heaven forfend) question their existence — things might have been much, much worse.
That shut him up. He was nice and quiet and thoughtful all the rest of the way from the mouth of the Amazon to Bequia island in the West Indies.
Today’s ThoughtWas anything real ever gained without sacrifice of some kind?
— Arthur Helps, Friends in Council
Tailpiece“What would you be after having there in that bag, O’Flaherty?”
“I’m not saying.”
“Well then I’ll guess how many — and you can give me a prize if I’m right.”
“I don’t have a prize. But I tell you what — if you get it right you can have both of them.”
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