Life Aboard LULU

January 10, 2000
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December 27

Bobby, Wendy & Jeff have arrived. They were the last ones out of customs – over an hour late. Seems Immigration stuck them in a holding area for aliens because they could show no hotel or island destination, other than “Lulu,” which was anchored they weren’t sure where. Lulu’s existence had to be proven to assure Immigration these three sinister characters weren't trying to smuggle themselves in. So Lulu’s captain had to be located. Of course that took place in typical island style -- no one paged us, no one was dispatched to find us. Eventually some guy in uniform meandered out and happened to see Gary's Lulu tee-shirt. Which wasn’t hard since we were the only people left.

"Oh, Mon," he said, "We have your people back there." Gary asked when they'd be out. "Oh, well, soon, I imagine." Did he rush back in to free them? No...he continued on his way to have a smoke or a pee or a chat with one of the taxi drivers.

When finally released the kids reported when the Immigration officer read their disembarkation cards and saw "Lulu” as their island destination, he shook his head and remarked, "Oh, this is not a good thing." "You wanted a fax or a letter from the captain, informing us you were arriving," he told them, before consigning them to oblivion – some holding area for “problems.”

As we progress around here, we are always discovering what "we wanted" that we had no idea we wanted. (We thought the "we wanted" was confined to the watches, cameras and assorted gold and diamond baubles we were told we wanted in Charlotte Amalie. This St Thomas listing of what we wanted, as a way of hawking merchandise, was bested only by the Turkish proprietor, a complete stranger, who rushed outside his shop, grabbed my arm, began dragging me in, saying, "Your ring is ready."

Anyway, Gary's shirt, maybe even more than his actual presence, sufficed to get them sprung...though all in good Island Time. A German girl on their plane fared less well. Her captain or host did not come to greet her -- and, in fact had no idea exactly when she was arriving -- so she may be spending her 3 weeks in a holding pen. Unless some official who’s not too busy clues her in on how to contact the boat, most of us being without phones.

Most local communication happens via the VHF radio. Taxis, grocery stores, liquor stores, restaurants, chandleries, marinas, repair shops all monitor Channel 68 constantly, as does the Coast Guard, Immigration, Customs and all other officialdom. Once you make contact, you choose a switching channel, which keeps #68 not overly clogged.

It's really a strange feeling to be hailing a taxi by jabbing your thumb into a microphone instead of out into the middle of Madison Avenue. But it’s really fun being part of a giant party line and makes us feel we’re living back in the ‘40s somewhere on the prairie . Everyone listens and everyone knows -- just by listening to whom everyone else is hailing -- exactly what’s wrong with everyone else’s boat. Literally, everyone knows everybody’s dirty laundry.

 

December 30, 1999

Antigua is a different kind of sailing than the Virgin Islands. The Virgins feel like a ring of islands surrounding a great bay. Sailing between the islands in “the bay” is mostly peaceful. Whenever you come near the ocean the seas around you and the sailing itself get more boisterous Here we’re an island surrounded by an ocean, so sailing is generally rougher.

Yesterday, when we took the kids sailing, two on the crew roster got seasick – Wendy and Jeff – so we turned back. This was disappointing, though not surprising; some forethought that included dispensing a Bonine or two the day before would likely have mitigated, if not eliminated, the problem.

But that was all yesterday: today was one of the best days ever -- for all of us. Mostly because of the Neri family, on Calvin. They diverted to Antigua instead of sailing straight to Bequia, on a whim –because Jackie suggested it long distance over Chat. They’re so enjoying all of us they’ve decided to stay for New Year’s. They are, after all on a year’s vacation, so why be tied to a rigid schedule?

We’ve all done drinks, dinner or touring every day since their arrival Saturday. Karen and Dan, the parents, are serious jocks: Dan runs eight miles a day, Karen following a somewhat less ardent running regime. Or, the two of them take long hikes. The kids, Danielle & Matt, ages 13 & 12, aren’t particularly enthusiastic about daily hiking.

But now we’ve been joined by our own young jocks: Bobby, who works out, if he can, 2 to 3 hours a day, plus Wendy & Jeff, the hiker-biker duo. So last night, when Dan announced they were climbing up to Shirley Heights -- remember, the highest point of the island – their feet began twitching in place. I also decided I’d had enough of no exercise. Mel came too, Jackie unfortunately has sprained her ankle and Gary was head deep in instrument/generator/inverter/pump problems. Matt and Dani, who have been enjoying the company of our younger generation came as well.

It was a long and arduous hike, especially for Mel and me; we were a whole lot more fit when we use to walk an hour a day. To us it felt like scaling Mount Rushmore, but Gary informs me from a glance at the nautical chart, it’s only 500 feet; Jeff, however, reports most of the climb was on a 10 to 15% grade – reason enough for our huffy-puffy ascent and sore calf muscles. For most of the way we also were threading our way up a narrow trail, maybe 12” wide, through overgrown woods strewn with rocks. Cacti greeted us all up the trail with long, spiky, dangerous fronds extended out as if to shake hands. The grownups were more careful, but Dani and Matt met with several cactus swats as they bounded up the narrow path with the insouciance of children.

We had to hunch and duck to get through frequent, thick tree canopies. I was doing fine, but as I snaked my way through one of these arches my head wasn’t low enough or I lifted it too soon, directly into a broken tree branch, One of its branches had snapped, leaving a sharp spike, about ╝” in diameter and 2” long, pointing straight down. Hunched over, I had no way of seeing it, but suddenly I my head felt impaled on some very unfriendly something. When I reached up to explore, my hand came back red with the blood I could feel spurting out and down my face.

It didn’t hurt much but, looking up at the pointy barb that got me and feeling what seemed a good-sized hole, I was afraid “it wanted” immediate attention. And not only did I know the word “immediate” has a very different meaning in the Caribbean lexicon, but there I was stuck halfway up a steep mountain. Fortunately I’d brought along my trusty doctor son. Getting the news passed up the hill by our loosely-linked human chain, he doubled back from his advance position. He accepted someone’s water bottle and began pouring it over my head, using his own shirt to catch the bloody overflow. When the wound was exposed, he said it looked worse than it was, it would stop bleeding soon and I’d be fine. Excellent trailside manner, I’d say, which enabled me to continue the climb without worry.

When we reached the top, we got the marvelous Shirley Heights view, but we also got to climb around the ruins of the old fort up there and discover other beautiful sea views, some accented by picture-perfect, crashing surf below. Across the mountains we saw goat tribes busily munching the tall grasses surrounding them. We, too, walked through these knee-deep meadows of grass, enthralled, as the strong mountaintop winds blew their silvery, sunlit green tips into broad, rapidly shifting waves -- a pale green version of the restlessly shifting seas below.

We returned via the road: walking down that steep, narrow track would have been dangerous. We guesstimated it as an 8-mile trek, round trip. All in all, I’d have to say it was a peak peak experience. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)

By then it was 2:30: barely time to hurry back to our separate boats, grab some lunch and hightail it back to Calvin, where we were all to be crew for an hour-long race between Falmouth and English Harbours.

Our second high of the day, this one a real pulse-racer. Dan and Karen are a crackerjack racing team; Dan, in fact, is a national racing champion in his class Mel tells me. Calvin is a super-sleek Aerodyne 38’ -- a prototype designed especially for Dan & Karen. It’s slick, bright red and racy looking -- and it leaps through the winds like a happy monkey.

With no time to waste, Dan assigned us tasks and briefed us quickly on his sail plan: how we’d take the markers, when we’d jibe, when we’d reef the main and that we probably had no chance of winning, since, given the experience level of the crew, (he said this gently and diplomatically) he’d elected not to fly “the kite” -- the spinnaker, that is.

We learned so much and still had a blast of a ride, despite our novice status responded quickly and, for the most part efficiently, to Dan’s low key but effective commands. Dan helmed, plying the large wheel effortlessly, like he was spinning strands of silk. Mel felt he worked it with a brain surgeon’s skill, the wheel slipping easily and obediently through his two hands, taking Calvin exactly where he planned. And, oh my, did they plan. We were astonished to see them time our start down to the very last second -- just minutes before the gun we did several practice runs to the start buoy, Karen counting the seconds so Calvin would be able to pass the start line just as the gun fired. Their communications and teamwork were not only exemplary, but awesomely effective.

We went through exactly on time, Dan trying, more from habit, he said, than from conscious plan, an expert’s opening gambit. He began jockeying into a position where he would cruise through the starting line -- passing one boat after another on a starboard tack, a ploy that would force each of them to give way: that is, turn away to avoid hitting him. (Any boat on a starboard tack – that is, with the wind coming over its starboard rails – has the right of way) This would totally destroy everyone’s start plan, and would be especially destructive for boats who’d already hoisted their spinnakers. Each would have to tack out of the way and then tack back on course, throwing all the skippers into total disarray, during which time Calvin would be sprinting out of the harbor and we’d almost surely win the race. Quite a strategy, but the chief judge, Jol Byerley, a seasoned sailor who raced years ago with (and against) Dan, recognized exactly what

was going on and yelled, “DON’T do it, Dan!”

So we didn’t. But we came in first over the finish line anyway, a really miraculous feat considering the herd of spinnaker-driven boats behind us. The winds were very strong, over 30 knots at times, and Karen “read’ them out to Dan, in yet another astonishing new bit of sailsmanship for us. Dan says no one he’s ever met times the winds like she can. She looks out ahead at the water, watching for the different wave patterns the wind causes as it whips across. “Puff in about 10 seconds – a big one…we’ll get a good ride out of this one. Trough here, a short one… Small puff coming,” she’d report, watching, too, the boats closest to us, comparing what winds they’d be responding to and anticipating their next moves, so we could counter them or render them ineffective. She communicated all this and, at the same time, changed a genny line to give us greater speed, helped Bobby at midships with the main halyard to accomplish a mainsheet reef and, in general jumped from winch to winch, assisting her novice crew at their various posts. Dani, too, bounded around the decks, up to the bow and back to the stern with the agility and speed of a mountain goat, to carry out Dan’s other instructions.

Mel and Jeff handled the mainsail, passing its sheets back and forth during jibes, reeling it in closer, letting it out during tacks and runs. Jeff is quite the quick study – he was on top of his job with a good deal of expertise not long after the gun, Wendy and I each manned a genoa winch, Dani and Karen assisting when we floundered or didn’t get it tight quite quick enough.

As soon as we each accomplished our individual tacking task, we raced over winches, decks (and, frequently, each other), across the pitching boat, to hang our feet and thrust our bodies over the rail on the high side. You’ve seen this in all the sailing-race pictures -- a group of sailors all huddled together on one side of a boat, spray or waves pouring over them: what this accomplishes is to add weight and flatten out the boat -- because heeling boats actually move slower through the water. The person in lead position; that is, the bow- end of the cluster, is called “the sponge,” and for obvious reasons.

Jeff, during one of these maneuvers scrambling across the boat, was almost tossed overboard. Polite to the last, he’d waited for everyone else to get to the starboard rail and, ,just as he attempted to sardine his way into leftover sliver of room at the stern, the boat pitched, slamming the rails into the water. This sent Jeff sliding on the deck, slippery from water continually crashing over the rails and, before anyone could respond, (not that anyone necessarily could have, singly-focused as we individually were), both his legs were thigh-deep in the water. We were moving maybe at around 9 knots, so the force dragging him was strong. But so was he. He grabbed on to the first thing he could -- appropriately enough, the man overboard pole positioned at the stern, and managed to drag himself back in. Lucky for him – I can’t guarantee we’d have turned back to rescue him, because we were determined to win his race!

Which we did – despite all the boats that appeared to be gaining on us momentarily. Calvin, because of her design and race-worthiness, carries a heavy handicap and had to give almost all the boats time, despite our lack of spinnaker. (The next day we found out this handicap drove us back to fifth place in the racing class! Coming in 5th doesn’t matter at all – given the fun, we all know who won.

Jackie, invalided by her ankle, was stuck on Feisty, watching through binoculars. For Matt, such races are almost humdrum and he didn’t relish the rough ride head, so he chose to stay on Feisty. And poor Gary was having an devil of a time on Lulu working his way through repairs. Now, no one has never used the “awful,” “repairs” and “Gary” in the same sentence – a truly upsetting turn of events.

It wasn’t long ago that our friend Arthur hoarded the repairs on his big country home in Stockbridge, just to keep Gary happily occupied over a long New Year’s weekend. I always suspected the real reason he bought such a large home was to keep Gary content while the other guys watched football over holiday weekends. Though before they’d release Gary to his chores they made him say, though it took much coaching, “How ‘bout those Giants!” Gary’s difficulty with this sentence was not uttering it, but saying it with the proper emphasis and enthusiasm quotient.

Gary could handle the mechanical woes of a 7-bedroom country manor and, for decades, a whole factory’s worth of repairs. But the array of systems on this boat, combined with the speed at which they break, is truly dragging him down. It’s not just how many, but, even more, how critical they are to our plans. If we were having, say, small wiring problems or a malfunctioning pump every day (we have a total of 27 on board), he’d be in fine fettle. But we’ve been having major problems with important systems. Over the past week, the auto pilot has been sporadically conking out – and just when we need it most -- in heavy winds and seas. In a new wrinkle, the generator has been shutting down regularly. And then, yesterday, we were using the toaster, the coffeepot, the microwave and the clothes dryer all at one time and this heavy-duty combo may have blown out the inverter. (The inverter converts battery power into household current, so you can run your hairdryer or your vacuum or your washing machine, if you’re lucky enough to have one.)

Within an hour of the inverter’s smoky exit, the dinghy engine, in probably another suicide attempt, appeared to have finally carried out Doozy’s plan by succeeding in dropping dead. What this means to us, anchored in the harbor, is that we have no electricity to run anything and no means of getting to shore. We could check into a marina, but they’re are filled with huge charter boats and giant private yachts here for the big New Year’s week.

So, with Gary totally occupied -- all fingers trying to hold together a rapidly exploding dyke -- all the routine minor crises are driving him nuts – the smaller systems that quit, switches that corrode, drawer catches that stick on a daily basis. He is actually approaching a state of defeat, something I’ve personally never seen -- and doubt has actually occurred.

As my son, Bob, here only two days, observed: “Poor people spend their lives trying to get away from problems like these and here you two have actually bought them!”

That Gary hates calling in repair people only compounds our woes. It’s partially their extraordinary rates, combined with their lackluster pace, all adding up to the monstrous tab you get at the end. That coupled with the attitude of most boaters, which he refuses to take, “that some high-school dropout shows up with dirty fingernails and filthy shoes, tracks grease across your floors and upholstery, while you breathe a sigh of relief and shout, “We’re saved!” But I believe, most important is he can’t bear not being able to figure out how to fix anything mechanical.

Still, he did get a lot accomplished, having us gone from under his feet for the day. Plus, he seems to have surrendered and accepted the ugly truth -- that he can’t fix it all. He did finally succeed with the generator. Knowing the inverter was unrepairable he got a new circuit board ordered. We found a talented guy who repaired our esoteric dinghy engine using parts cobbled together from other brands. And we got on several repair shops’ wait lists -- one of them will tackle the autopilot next week. So we’re in partial operation again and almost ready to roll. But now the Christmas winds have picked up to a pitch that makes it highly unlikely we’d sail anyway for a while. Meanwhile, Millennium New Year’s approaches tonight, with the prospect of shore parties for the younger generation and the best fireworks around, though, jaded, Grucci-spoiled New Yorkers that we are, we’ve ratcheted down our expectations in this department considerably.

Dan says that if anything sends cruising couples home permanently it’s exactly this: they just can’t keep up with the maintenance. Ken Slagel reaffirmed after touring Tara. His exit comment about this exquisite, very custom and very complicated yacht was, “It’s a beautiful boat, but, all in all, I’d rather sail.” What with Carolyn and Dave just finishing 4 weeks in dock with professionals crawling over many of Tara’s systems -- from computer through watermaker -- he certainly has it right.

Bobby’s other comment was that our lifestyle is a peculiar combination of absolutely luxurious relaxation and unending stress. I think that’s what I’ve been describing now for weeks: we’ve been singing the Breakdown Blues. Maybe wailing is a better word.

CAVEAT: I think I may be giving you the impression that we are constantly bemoaning the fate we dealt ourselves, creating the impression that we are not having a delight of a retiremen. This is not accurate. I have been writing a true account of what's breaking, how hard and expensive these problems are to fix. But much of it reflects my sense of humor, with maybe some teeny weeny exaggerations.

What I've not chronicled sufficiently are the gorgeous nightly sunsets - with, as Gary would say, adult beverages in hand; the exquisite waters; the excitement of arriving in new places over and over again; the challenge of mastering a brand new skill and figuring out how to do things that are easy to accomplish at home with just a phone call, when here we don't even have the phone, much less know who to call. But this actually only adds to the challenge, which for us are the equivalent of board games, taking the place of all sorts of games we'd be bored with: golf, tennis, football (How 'bout them Giants!)

Truth be told, we are having an even better time than we imagined; we are meeting new people, having new adventures and laughing lots. The only hole in our lives is the absence of our family and friends.

But most of all, we are peaceful and content. And getting along famously together. This boat is maybe 600-square feet of inside living space, the two of us spend most of our time in 300 feet of it and we have only slept apart once (and you know whose fault that was!)

Of course what it lacks in indoor space it makes up for outdoors: we get rocked to sleep hearing water lapping gently on the hull. Our sleep is long and deep and restful. We wake to clean fresh air all around us and heavenly panoramas set out for us like breakfast. There's an endless horizon for us to chase, with stars, moons and rainbows our constant companions.

Here are some other delights:

  1. I haven't been stuck in a traffic jam in months.
  2. I have time enough to savor every word I read - and even time to savor that I'm savoring it.
  3. I still have some unread New Yorkers left.
  4. I get to spend 24-hours a day with my husband, who constantly surprises me with his bottomless creativity -- and who always makes me laugh.
  5. I almost never think about what I'm wearing.
  6. I mostly don't even care if what I'm wearing matches.
  7. I rarely notice what anyone else is wearing.
  8. I'm never tense. My neck and shoulders and back never hurt.
  9. I almost never have to do anything, though I have turned into my own cleaning lady, it's true. And this is not vacation - it's our life!

So, not to worry. This is very good.

January 3, 2000

We’ve been having a super time with our kids -- whom I should not be referring to as “kids” but rather “grown-up offspring” -- Bobby being 36, Jeff 41 and Wendy 30.. They acclimated quickly to the humdrum-with-bursts-of-frenzy pace of our lives and have taken to sailing, tacking and trimming sails in rough seas like they were born wearing Docksiders and whale-patterned pants. Bobby, who expected not to sleep at all, worrying about the close quarters, the odd boat squeaks and rumbles and too much rocking at anchor, has slept most nights about as well as he did in his crib. About the only thing keeps him awake is his inability to get to a gym. There actually is one, but he’s fallen victim to the lazy pace and dreamy mindset (if you’re not an owner with repair list) of the boating lifestyle.

“When I arrived,” he says, “I was deeply worried about being trapped on the boat and never getting to shore. Now I can’t get myself to want to go.” So he’s jury-rigged a makeshift workout routine: chinning and swinging from grab rail to grab rail, swimming lap after lap around the boat. I put him out of his last bit of misery by showing him where I stash my adjustable weights. Now he can do his curls. Or his crunches. I used to know which was which…

The kids have enjoyed the lunches of rotis on land, as well as the minimalist sandwiches aboard (it’s hard to prepare -- or even enjoy, for that matter -- elaborate, gourmet lunches while underway in 25-knot winds); the festive group dinners with the Feisties, the Calvins and, occasionally, Maxine and Tim, this boat’s former crew. Tim appears, being diplomatic, to be quite the ambitious drinker, working his way ruthlessly through a couple of Bloody Marys, bottle after bottle of Beaujolais, an assortment of after-dinner liqueurs, washed down by an occasional beer or two – all at one sitting. This results in a valiant, if totally wobbly, effort to remain vertical, which he seems to accomplish mainly by grabbing the nearest chick – or old lady -- and whirling her around an entirely imaginary dance floor. Quite a chaser, I’d say.

The Neri family is adorable and fun to spend time with. Like a set of Pied Pipers, they pick up people everywhere, end up being invited, say, on mega-yachts for private tours or embroiled in basketball games with squads of local youngsters. Matt, who is quiet, made me a perfectly scaled drawing of Lulu; Dani is entrancing, both in her model-quality beauty and her total obliviousness to it. Karen is serene but participatory, as well as a great cook, who can knock together terrific stuff out of simple ingredients, and Dan has a huge spirit of adventure and a sly sense of humor. As Wendy put it: “The Neri's are such a lovely family. They’re so normal -- or whatever normal is supposed to be.”

All this made our New Year’s festive and fun. The 11 of us had dinner onboard Lulu, marred only around midnight, when, racing to clean up and get ashore but at the same time not miss Karen’s apple crisp and ice-cream dessert, my thumb got caught when our 100-pound freezer lid slammed shut before I could retract all of my fingers ( my pitiable hand-eye coordination aggravated, I’ll allow, by some celebratory wine and rum consumption.) Bobby to the rescue again, applying ice and a bandage to my throbbing thumb, by which time it was 11:50. We rushed to shore in record dinghy time. Some of us jumped into an available taxi, the other, younger, more limber contingent running alongside through a great thicket of people.

We all ended up, miraculously, together on the beach at English Harbour. As the Millennium countdown began, we uncorked all the champagne we’d schlepped from our combined boats, kissed, hugged and started chugging it down. The pretty much tepid fireworks that followed were more than made up for by the hot, hot, hot reggae band and some high-energy dancing on the beach. My thumb throbbed to the beat, but it didn’t keep me dancing in the sand. We didn’t get to bed till at least 3 AM -- a considerable departure from our standard Stockbridge New Year’s where, despite how much we grok each other, we’re all yawning by 11, barely holding on to consciousness by midnight, and snoring by 12:30.

Latish on New Year’s Day we pulled up anchor and departed for calmer anchorages, enjoying the sail and a magnificent scenic background. Last night we all taxied back from Deep Bay for the Sunday night steel-band Shirley Heights festivities, which the kids said lived up to our raves.

 

BURIAL AT SEA

January 3, 2000

Yesterday we completed the cycle of my mother’s life. Bobby and I tossed her cremated ashes into the wind and out to sea. All 3 of her grandchildren had signed up for this service on Millennium New Year’s, but, unfortunately, her great grandchildren got in the way. John’s triplets and Suey’s pregnancy kyboshed their trip down here. Still, Bobby and I think we did fine in their stead, accomplishing our funereal task with just the ratio of ceremony and irreverence appropriate to a woman whose entirely apt nickname was Dotty. (Dotties and Doozies do seem to prevail in my life.)

I know she’d have loved every moment of it: the speeches, her grandson there taking part, the scattering itself -- even her unorthodox journey down here: My mother was supposed to get to the Virgin Islands with us, aboard Lulu, but in all the frenzy and haste, we left her at home in her sleek Lucite urn, custom made for her and yet another Plastic Works first-and-fabulous.

So, abandoned inadvertently, she had to be Fed-Exed. I know it sounds bizarre and indecorous, but, trust me, she’d have enjoyed not only this extra hoopla attendant to her final resting place(s), but also one last travel opportunity, since a trip to Portugal in 1953 and one to Florida in 1978 were about the extent of her long distance wanderings. (At least her physical travels. Her mental and psychic joints are quite another story.)

Suey located her perched on a high platform in our living room, where we placed her to oversee not only our daily lives, but all the special events that she relished presiding over, ensconced in our cushiest chair like the Queen Mother.

“Get me a shrimp, Louise, No! Put more sauce on it! Bobby, try that cheese thing, it’s divine...absolutely maah-velous; my daughter is the best cook! John, now don’t touch that dip over there – it’s much too sharp! Louise, why do you make everything so sharp! [Spicy being a word she could never master, which always made me feel I was stabbing her in the throat.] Gary! Make me another drink!” Gary, after years of obeying silently, one Thanksgiving Day, said, in his most dulcet tones, underscoring her shrill command, responded, “I’d be happy to, Granny, but didn’t anyone ever teach you to start a request with the word, ‘Please?’”)

It’s always difficult for a child to describe a parent, but nobody else ever succeeds in quite capturing my mother either. Perhaps because she was so impossibly outrageous. Her outrageousness stemmed, I suspect, from a triple-play combination of No Internal Censor, Not Terribly Bright and Lifelong Bipolar. Absolutely anything that came into her head transferred instantly to her tongue, which, without pause, pushed it straight out her mouth, regardless of who it might offend, hurt, ridicule – herself included. Had she been smarter she’d have known how badly she needed a shut-off valve.

The dotty Dotty anecdotes abound. It’s the only way people can describe her.

Once a friend of mine, whom she’d never met, stopped at her apartment on an errand for me. Adrienne, unfortunately, erred on the hefty side – as, by the way, did my mother, and in no small-potato way -- for most of her life. My mother opened the door, took in her girth and barked, “You know you don’t have to look that way! Have I got a diet for you!” And lumbered into the apartment to find it for poor Adrienne. At that point the last thing she needed was a diet, having just been given the long-sought motivation by my mother.

“Dorothy, you’re an untapped national treasure,” my father used to say, dripping sarcasm. “You’ve missed your calling, you ought to be our Ambassador to Russia.” [Or Vietnam. Or China.] “I’m drafting a letter of recommendation to President Truman.” [Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon – only death cut short this list of presidents under whom she should be serving.]

One of my favorite episodes began when I was barely 13. I was painfully underdeveloped compared to my girlfriends, most of whom were already way into age 14. Whatever breasts they’d managed to develop were thrust front and center, encased in stiffly stitched, pointy-tipped Maidenform bras, while I still wore Carter’s undershirts, which was obvious to, and not going unnoticed by, all the boys in my class. By the time my mother finally got it that this was a daily humiliation I was almost 14 myself -- though, alas, not very much more endowed. As she, at long last, drove me one cold day in late November to the corsetiere for my first bra, I sat huddled in the back of the car, my gloved hands cupping whatever I’d so far sprouted, plus any surrounding skin I could gather up, preventing any unwanted and potentially dangerous shrinkage. No sooner did we enter the crowded little Brooklyn store than she thrust me forward, sprung open the buttons of my navy-blue pea jacket, pointing at me and bellowing at the top of her lungs, “Gertie, d’ya got something for these two little pimples?”

It only took 2 Est Trainings, 4 Actualizations workshops, plus 15 years of therapy for me to view this in from any other point of view than abject horror.

Most people, however (and particularly, not close relatives) got a tremendous kick out of her: even, frequently, those she’d just kicked. They recognized these outpourings of opinion, judgment, admonishments and advice were never intended to be malicious: in fact, she meant only to be helpful and supportive. This group more easily made the transition from annoyed or mad to simply incredulous.

Many thought she was a hoot to start with. Others were grateful because her wild, if momentary, enthusiasms for new acquaintances and merchandise contributed mightily to many a new product or small business. I’m thinking of the countless furriers, dentists, doctors she touted. More, specifically, I’m thinking of Leon, who became Official Lincoln Towers (Manhattan) and later Newport Towers (Harrison) Decorator. I’m thinking of Rosa, who’d come to her house to do a manicure and whom she transformed into a cleaning lady (”As long as you’re here anyway…) I’m convinced that the success of Royal Farms, today a multi-store supermarket powerhouse in Brooklyn, and, for all I know, probably the rest of the outer boroughs, stems directly from my mother’s entirely platonic passion for Louis the Flatbush Avenue Grocer. I’m remembering Basic H, a miracle liquid she found that she (and, by extension, you) could use for absolutely anything -- from toilet cleaning to tooth brushing to douching.

On the subject of douching, it was my mother at the age of 60-something who gave me, at the age of 40-something, my first vibrator, an item she’d picked up (and tried first) for herself as well at The Pleasure Chest in Greenwich Village. How she got to The Pleasure Chest stemmed directly from “The Sensuous Woman.” She devoured that book, presumably in between daily doses of Mary Baker Eddy’s “Science and Health, With Key to the Scriptures.” Then one night at about 1 in the morning -- and weighing in at around 185 -- she flung her mink coat over her naked body, cabbed down to my father’s office, threw first the coat, then herself, on the floor, and, in her best imitation of throaty sensuality, commanded my astonished father: “Take me, Norman, I’m yours! (How a daughter gets to find out stuff like this is another topic.)

Not Terribly Bright translated into endless malapropisms, mishearings and mispronunciations, none of them correctable, regardless of how hard I tried or how many times others corrected her. Susan Nodiff, a friend of 40 years, was -- from the day we returned from the Bermuda honeymoons where we met, until the day my mother died – called Nodick, a minor annoyance to Susan and no compliment, I might add, to her husband, Irv.

Lifelong Bipolar meant my mother was what used to be called a manic-depressive, in this case, accent on the manic. She’d try any diet, embrace any religion, buy any product, sign up for any workshop. How else to explain her daily injections of pregnant women’s urine? “Best diet I’ve ever been on – I’m never hungry!” she’d exclaim. “Does the urine transfer the morning sickness gene?” I wondered. “No, never felt better! Just don’t feel like eating!” (You might not either if you’d been injected with someone else’s urine. Meanwhile, she was shrinking rapidly from a size 16 to a size 8.)

This diet’s secret turned out to be a 600-calorie-per-day regimen. “Well what diet wouldn’t work if you only ate 600 calories a day?” “Well, how else do you think I could do it without those injections?” “I don’t know, how about they put you to sleep with an IV drip for a couple of months, and you’ll wake up thin and rested? ( I had an ulterior motive here – so might I!)

When my father died (and I’m positive he simply gave up), I took up his role of reluctant protector. For the 25 years she survived him I became the mother and she the child. When she hit the depressive phases, it usually meant I would soon be shepherding her through a nervous breakdown, usually requiring hospitalization and shock treatments. I saw her through 3 of these breakdowns. During one, she actually punched a male nurse, sending him to the plastic surgery department for eyeglass shard removal and multiple stitches.

Over those years, I schlepped my Christian Scientist mother to a remarkable array of local and Manhattan doctors, me behind the wheel, she slamming her foot ceaselessly on an imaginary brake pedal. Specialists at Mt. Sinai, at New York Hospital (always “the best man in the city…my grandson you know is a doctor” ) and at Sloan-Kettering, (which, despite the fact that her grandson did a 4-year residency at, she insisted on calling “Sloan-Kendrick) ministered to her during one lumpectomy, one losing battle with reflux and a hiatal hernia that required complicated microsurgery, two bouts with cancer, plus multiple urinary tract infections.

But my difficulties with my mother truly came not from these kinds of things but from issues surrounding my younger brother, who, at 28, died violently and, I always believed, unnecessarily had she been able to mother him in a loving, rather than devastating, way. Nonetheless, like most us eventually do, in the end I came to terms with my mother -- who she was, who she could never be -- and could be there fully, without resentment during her last months, with the extraordinary support of the remarkably selfless, endlessly compassionate United Hospital hospice staff. Before leaving her on the night she died, I sat with her, held her hand, told her I loved her and kissed her goodnight. Though she was at that time semi-comatose, none of us suspected death hovered so near.

The building superintendent, the handyman, the pharmacist, the supermarket cashier, all called or came -- and showing considerable emotion -- to regret her passing and to tell me, “Your mother was a great lady.”

And she was – in her own right, a real pistol and a genuine pisser. Unforgettable. One of a kind. Fortunately for me she wasn’t twins.

Knowing she wanted to be cremated, had protested long and loud any maudlin funeral ceremony, a month or so after her death I hosted a celebratory luncheon in Lusardi’s private dining room, inviting her granddaughter, her remaining friends and her favorite hospice workers. Framed pictures of her decorated the table; I made makeshift placemats and napkins out of a leopard cotton -- she was wild for leopard. Everyone got a chance to tell their favorite dotty Dotty story and we toasted her with champagne.

There were no champagne toasts at the Antiguan scattering ritual, however. On the morning of January 2, we were on our way back to Falmouth, well aware and mildly regretting that our New Year’s revelry had taken precedence over our planned Millennium Midnight ceremony.

Still, the harbor we were exiting was called Jolly Harbour, which seemed just right. And a squall was threatening, also entirely suitable to the occasion. Bobby ran below and brought up the repository of her remains: out of her Lucite urn, (too heavy to ship and too fragile to store aboard) she resided in a large, inelegant metal can, resembling an unlabeled gallon of Benjamin Moore. Not a shred of leopard in sight. I paused to regret my meager preparations, while Bobby raced below for a screwdriver. The whole thing felt a lot macabre. Removing the lid felt scary and even more unsettling. I was uneasy about what I’d see; Bobby being a doctor was blasÚ, having seen pretty much it all. What greeted me was anticlimactic – and even less elegant; inside I found a twist-tied plastic bag, its thick-walled inner surface made murky gray by the powdery ash within. She was heavy: an instant, and reassuring, reminder of all those diets.

We were barely ahead of the approaching weather. Gary positioned Bobby and I on deck and at the rail, at the right angle to the wind to prevent us getting “Lebowskied,” which was very much on our combined mind. (If you’ve not seen the movie, there’s a hilarious scene where Jeff Bridges sends his friend’s ashes into a maelstrom of wind, which sends them straight back at him.)

We each held the bag and I tipped it into the wind, launching a long stream of gray particles, some fine, some coarse (in yet another bit of symbolism). Some tears sprung to my eyes and my words as they rushed off before us toward the retreating harbor and the approaching storm were (as best I can remember) “Mom, it’s entirely fitting that I leave you in Jolly Harbour in the midst of a squall! You were quite the character and we all loved you in our separate ways. Goodbye….”

I paused to see how that sat with me, and then ordered -- exactly as she would have -- “And don’t you dare come back!”

But of course she did – bits of her lingered in the crevices of the toe rail, as if refusing to be swept away by the onrushing rain pelting the decks. Bobby, an indefatigable jokester, picked up what looked to him like a piece of a dental crown: appropriate, since my mother prided herself on “never letting her teeth go” and had another one of those inexplicably passionate relationships with her dentist, to me a cold, tough, self-absorbed man -- Dr. Magid. (I insisted on calling him Dr. Maggot, since he once refused to pay us for an intricate, expensive custom Lucite lab item, which we had made exactly to his (incorrect) specifications. She loved him anyway.

Did anger and resentment outweigh love in my feelings toward my mother? Was our relationship more stormy, difficult than other mothers and daughters? Probably. Yet I am aware that embedded in my approach to life is her will to embrace everything, try anything that -- as my ex-husband used to say -- “comes down the pike.” I would not be here today, giving up our safe, comfortable way of life, in middle age, to live this adventure, to travel where the winds take us, had she not been my mother. I inherited, and probably imitated, her outgoing personality, her easy acceptance of others, her willingness to talk to new people.

I just try to pronounce things right.

 

January 4

Things that remind me of my mother:

  1. Weight Watchers, Diet Center, Jenny Craig, pregnant women
  2. Piano legs
  3. Brown eggs, butter in 1-pound blocks
  4. Butchers DelMonte’s Skinless & Boneless Sardines in Tomato Sauce
  5. Undercooked brisket Campbell’s Cream of Tomato sauce – what passed for Marinara Sauce in our house
  6. Gelatinous masses surrounding cold, cooked chicken Stuffed Cabbage: now there’s something she really could make…
  7. Sweet and Sour anything
  8. Sen-Sens (better than breath mints)
  9. Books of matches behind a toilet
  10. Perms
  11. Eyeglasses: she could never get enough of them
  12. Overdone necklaces
  13. Mobi pearl rings
  14. Love bracelets: she always thought her copy passed muster
  15. Male nurses
  16. Department store saleswomen
  17. Late night infomercials
  18. Oversized nylon bloomers
  19. Housecoats, i.e., bathrobes
  20. The color black
  21. The word “Woolies”
  22. The words “Is it sharp?”
  23. Shrimp with Lobster Sauce Pappardelle – at Orso’s the first time she met my daughter’s future husband, she threw up in his direction, propelling one fat noodle smack onto his lapel and, we thought, surely queering the deal
  24. That strange high-pitched sucking sound I still hear in my sleep -- a cross between a cluck and a squeal – meant to unhinge food particles trapped between her teeth. She did it so often it became an habitual nervous tic
  25. Zantac
  26. Breast Cancer

 

January 7, 2000

We have a new breakdown to report: Sunday the radar unit detached as we sailed back to Falmouth with the kids. For a good 2 miles, it hung precariously by a slim cable, slamming repeatedly into the mast. Fortunately the winds, which had been up to 25, and the seas, which had been peaking around 10 feet, died down around then so the radar, miraculously, didn’t disconnect and come crashing down into the deck or the windshield or one of us.

Unfortunately, of late too many of our most recent and pressing mechanical failures -- inverter, autopilot, radar fall into the very small category of Things Gary Can’t Fix Himself, which continues to drive him nuts. Fortunately the services available in Falmouth, Antigua make Roadtown, Tortola look positively Cro-Magnon. We’re graced with a host of every imaginable yacht service business – electronics, riggers, divers, sail makers, laundresses, watermaker experts, metal fabricators, to name a few – scattered around the harbor and instantly available on 68. They even come out into the anchorage to measure, evaluate, and, if at all possible, do the work.

This range of facilities has made Falmouth a Mecca for mega-yachts. In all of our boating travels, we’ve never seen anything quite like it --- many of them approximate Carnival cruise ships, each one magnificent in its own right and quite different from its neighbor. These boats, unlike us smaller sailboats, are clustered along the docks -- elegant versions of Baltimore row houses. Compared to this yacht pulchritude, Nantucket resembles New Rochelle and the four of us feel like flies on an elephant’s trunk as we pass under their massive bows on our way to shore. On shore we walk the docks hoping for glimpses of their sumptuous salons, for open portholes so we can peek into lavish cabins or spanking clean engine rooms.

Every day some new wonder glides in, showing off like the new kid on the block with the best toys. The current contender – and maybe even the winner – is a spectacular recent arrival: a Japanese boat named Katana, we estimate 250-feet long and 40-feet wide – a three-story apartment building of a boat, complete with wraparound terraces. These terraces are glassed in, with row above row of the most astonishing, impossibly complicated-to-fabricate, compound-curved glass windows – like huge transparent green hedges encircling an impenetrable fortress. Across her wide stern is a seamless glass wall decorated with a massive emblem, reminiscent of a samurai’s shield -- one single, spare Japanese character, a black swath streaking through a huge lacquer-red circle. Inside, behind this impregnable wall, is a gleaming, fully equipped workout gym, its polished stainless steel equipment absolutely spotless – so completely unsullied someone actually sweating in it would be a shocking bit of effrontery. (I’m sure my son Bobby, convinced that his unused muscles were approaching the early stages of atrophy -- the result of his gym-deprived visit last week -- would have bartered away a lifetime’s worth of free radiation for owners and crew just to get in there once a day.)

One can only imagine what other unheard-of luxuries and earthly pleasures are part and parcel of a stay on Katana or any one of the other glorious ships -- though Katana does try hard to make them look like also rans and pale pretenders to the throne.

Considering this real estate surrounding us, it’s clear we could do a lot worse than to be marooned here in this floating Disneyworld. And, since our current repairs and modifications are not quick fixes, some requiring parts to be shipped in or fabricated, it looks like we will at least be based here for a good bit longer. If the weather breaks, we are going to venture away for a week or so with Feisty to some of the other local island paradises: St. Barth’s, Anguilla, Nevis, St. Kitt’s, St Martin. We can then return to parts waiting to be installed and an array of solutions to our other ailing systems. Well, we can dream can’t we?

Meanwhile, Mother Nature continues to flex her muscles. We’ve already seen her one-two punch with Lenny and on any given day at sea how she can swat you about with her sharp claws, like a lion disciplining her cubs. The poor snorkeling and diving conditions are, no doubt, another part of the punishment.

It seems just to keep us in line and continually aware of who’s boss, she’s been treating us to a daily tongue lashing, spewing out stronger winds, spitting out more rain, and belting us with higher seas than usual for this time of year. Same refrain we’ve been hearing since we left Hampton and arrived in Virgin Gorda.

I suppose it’s possible (giving her some credit for good parenting) that she’s just trying to protect us from some larger danger out there. This morning we are listing back and forth from side to side, so far only a fairly gentle reminder of what may be out there. Later in the day it gets worse. So we’re hoping for a lull in the various service people coming here to ply their trades on and around our hull, so we can move closer to shore, where it may be calmer. I sympathize with the rigger now working to reinstall our radar; he’s strapped in his bosun’s chair, shackled to the mast, which, being higher and more subject to the wind’s moodiness, swings about far more violently than the hull. I’d have taken a Bonine.

The result is we don’t know when we’ll be able to leave for St.Barth. The winds today are expected to hit 35 knots, and that’s in the harbor.

 

January 9, 2000

Maybe we haven’t gotten to leave for St. Barth, but we did get to meet St. Beth.

Never heard of St. Beth?

I don’t wonder. But she’s one of our household saints. St Beth is Beth Leonard, the author of a thick, informative book, called The Voyager’s Handbook, though it’s more encyclopedia than handbook. It was the first offshore cruising book I bought for myself (the actual first book I bought was for Gary and it was called “Dragged Aboard: A Cruising Guide for the Reluctant Mate.”

It was Gary who began calling her Saint Beth when he pointed out that I was invoking her name countless times every day and worshipping her at night, lying in bed beside him aha-ing, clucking, highlighting, dog-earing and plying her book’s pages with fluorescent Post-its.

I had made her way The Only Way to Do Things -- as I am wont to do. Now reverence is not Gary’s specialty, nor is the concept that there is only one answer to a question. Gary’s particular divinity is the critical, skeptical, scientific faculty and the attitude that there are myriad ways to do things – which is one of the first things I admired about him.

So, eventually, starting a sentence with “Beth says” or “You’ve got to read Beth’s chapter on…” became, if not exactly marital trigger points certain to push his buttons, then a surefire guarantee he’d never do it that way and would probably never read it.

My admiration for Beth Leonard was not limited to the fact that her book is extremely well written – poetic when appropriate and practical, clear and concise when necessary. It’s not only that she covers every aspect of cruising life, starting with why and why not to do it and, once you’re clear about whether you can live with the sometimes rough realities, rather than your romantic daydreams, how to go about planning for it and accomplishing it.

It’s that she’s my nautical role model: before she embraced the idea of the blue water life, she had only been day-sailing Lake Ontario.

Beth and her life partner, Evans, were high-paid, high-powered management consultants probably slated for partnerships in their huge firm. They were ‘80s yuppies working 70-hour weeks zipping about the world on airplanes. They gave it all to ratchet down and slowly circumnavigate the globe on a small sailboat. Evans had already been a charter boat captain but Beth had to learn the kinds of advanced sailing techniques and sea skills that I was worried about. (Course she did it the intelligent way -- before she left. I did it just by leaving. But then she, in her mid-thirties, had the time I definitely lack.)

After 5 years of preparation they left Newport and, taking 3 years, sailed around the world. The book is the result of that trip and it is breathtaking in its completeness. What she learned and writes about ranges from engine repairs, deck and hatch caulking, boat design and sail plans to safety, water conservation, galley provisioning and night watch schedules. She’s included a really thorough and readable explanation of basic weather and a complete list of important prescription drugs and medical supplies. In short, it is what it purports to be: the essential guide to blue water cruising.

If I have any problem with it it’s that it’s hard-cover and oversized -- so it doesn’t quite fit in our scrunchy, narrow sailboat bookshelves. I have to keep it lying down in a dusty nook over the refrigerator, though that’s pretty much okay because I need it handy -- like to refer to when I forget how much Clorox to put in the water tanks. (Yes, you have to put Clorox in your water to prevent inevitable bacteria taking over your water supply and crudding up your tanks – but you sure don’t want to throw in the wrong amount!)

So, considering it’s our boat Bible, I was thrilled last week when Jackie reported that Mel had recognized her new boat, Hawk, here in Falmouth Harbour. What little I knew about their current whereabouts is that they had to come back to work after 3 years sailing o replenish money supplies. The four of us had gone to a cruising seminar in 1997, I’m guessing, where Beth was one of the speakers. But at that time, the possibility of leaving our current lives to retire on a sailboat was just a glimmer in my imagination and a definite “it’ll never-happen” in Gary’s reality.

During last week we kept passing Hawk hoping to see a dinghy floating behind so we’d know they were home. Then I planned on knocking on her hull, telling her what a service her book has been and getting her to autograph it. I kept it in a plastic bag in the dinghy just in case. The kids kept a watch too – by this time they too wanted to meet St. Beth. Unfortunately Hawk left the harbor the day before we did.

But on our return, Mel noticed they, too, were back, and this time with a dinghy at their stern. So we ended up having drinks on Feisty and a pizza dinner ashore. I hate to be trite, but It was really a fun evening. Both Beth and Evans, now out cruising indefinitely, are fun to share an evening with, not surprising given their range of experiences and our common interests.

They're both down-to-earth and - no surprise - extremely knowledgeable about boats, harbors, places to go and how to best get there. Beth is blonde, with the sort of cheerful, wide-open Midwestern face that belies her intelligence and seems always on the verge of smiling. Evans is clearly comfortable in his own skin, as people who have spent long periods of time in their own company often are. He's slight and wiry with a quick sense of humor accented by occasional clever bits of sarcasm, which undercuts a sort of Cub-Scout boyishness. Savvy and smart as they both are, they somehow reminded me of fifth graders playing angels in a Christmas pageant. Part of me kept waiting for them break into a round of "Good King Wenceslas."

Having circumnavigated in Silk, a 37-foot Shannon, according to them a creampuff and princess if ever there was one, which needed constant attention and repairs (now where have I heard that before?) they designed Hawk like a battleship. Indeed Hawk's hull is raw, unpainted aluminum, Spartan in amenities, with minimal systems to break down and few interior design frills - in short, no extra anything. Nonetheless, they're back in port for an engine repair!

On their current itinerary is a slow voyage to Cape Horn. Likely they're gathering fortitude and courage, since they're toying with the idea of navigating it, a passage that quantifies the word treacherous.

Cape Horn is known to initiates as simply "The Horn," The lore and legend about this door to the Pacific - or Atlantic, depending on which way you're rounding South America -- date back to Columbus, who searched but never stumbled on it, to Magellan who "discovered" it in 1520, followed by the Spanish who plundered the treasures of Chile and Peru and the English who sought to supplant them. Next came the pirates who always attend such spoils, regardless of the peril, the great trading companies, willing to bear the risk in exchange for the wealth earned in transferring legitimate goods between hemispheres, and, finally, the adventurers whose mission it is to stalk danger and return with badges of bravery.

The Horn isn't actually a cape at all, but a tiny island at the southernmost tip of the Andes. Not unexpectedly, a narrow chute where two great oceans are forced to meet and fight for primacy, without land to mediate, is fraught with turbulence. Over the centuries sailors returned with tales of horror about ships shattered by walls of waves and winds so fierce they're called the Roaring Forties and Screaming Fifties. Such macho territory has made the Horn into a crucible, where sailors earn their stripes of seamanship.

To me it sounds like a giant, ongoing game of "I Dare You," which I'd rather not play. Beth and Evans are debating which route they’ll take to get there – whether to go spend next winter navigating the craggy English-Welsh coastline, wild, breathtaking and challenging they say, but to a woosy like me, still earning Spoiled Brat stripes, sounds like Foul Weather Central. Or they could go through the Panama Canal and on down the coast of South America. It’s a tossup right now, but they treat the long passage like it’s not much more than a subway ride.

I brought my book for autograph, its frequent use attested to by its exterior trim of tattered fluorescent Post-it fringe and, inside, by paragraph after highlighted paragraph in a Staples-worthy array of colors. I told her she’d prepared me for everything exhaustively, except she hadn’t placed enough emphasis on the bumps, bruises and battering our bodies sustain every day, just in the course of daily chores, puttering about the deck knocking into cleats, chocks, pulleys and the like -- not to mention the beating it takes underway, when the side-to-side pitching sends you careening into doorway frames and protruding cabinet hardware. “Boat hugs,” I think she called them. People say you haven’t learned your boat unless you can walk around the deck and interior in pitch-dark, finding everything and not getting hurt. We’re not there yet.

 

January 10, 2000

It’s 4:30 AM and I’m sitting here writing in the dark. I’d like to say I’m feeling Steinbeckian or, more to the point, Gertrude Steinish -- compelled to write and chiseling out packets of time whenever possible. In truth, we got up to leave for St Barth’s at 3:45 AM, a stupid plan that included navigating out to sea in utter darkness past a small island surrounded by rocks and, a little bit later, avoiding a sunken wreck at the mouth of the harbor. So the four of us, full of courage in yesterday’s daylight, are quivering on our separate boats, scared to death in the night time’s inkiness. Gary, naturally, would go for it, but is willing to allow as waiting might be the more prudent choice.

It’s 4:30 PM and we have arrived at Columbier in St. Barth’s after a glorious sail. The weather had portended winds and waves we weren’t sure we could handle, but we did just fine and had a great, confidence-building time of it. We did slog through 9 to 12-foot seas the entire way – sometimes reaching as high as 15 or more, we estimate -- and sailed in 25 to 32-knot winds regularly, which gusted up to 41 during one of the few squalls we met. This would have been no fun at all had we been heading into the wind, as we have so often. But we were on a broad reach – with the wind coming in at around 120 degrees, aft of center, but not too aft to be scary. We averaged almost 9 knots and at some points flew as fast as 12.4. A great trip.

We haven’t been here before so don’t have comparisons, but Jackie says this once-spectacular bay barely resembles itself. The hurricanes have wiped away much of the crescent beach and lush green backdrop. I’d agree right now it’s nothing special. Nearby Gustavia, the capital, which we passed on the way here, is inviting and Mediterranean looking, with clean, whitewashed houses and terra-cotta clay roofs. Unfortunately we can’t get there, since the dinghy motor is indeed -- and for all time -- kaput.

January 14, 2000

Jackie and Mel have good friends, Bruce and Dana, who, with their grown children, met them yesterday. They’re aboard a chartered boat. I shouldn’t use the word “boat” in this context since it’s a 120-foot motor yacht with plush, body-snatching sofas, formal dining rooms, bone china, a multitude of water toys and 5 in crew – especially nice since their group also numbers 5, a very nice balance if you feature being called “Mr. and Mrs.,” being waited on hand and foot, including having your own Haitian chef who whips up gourmet champignon salads and fresh fish dinners as if there’s a Balducci’s around the corner. And especially nice if you like king-sized beds and Swiss chocolates on your pillow. Not a bad way to spend a week’s vacation, if you’ve got a spare $50,000 hanging around unspent.

The boat belongs to a Palm Beach couple who were not so long ago, only well-to-do (probably living in merely Boca or worse, Miami.). But all that changed dramatically of late because they were smart or lucky enough to have invested, early on, a nice chunk of money in Dell. (I guess this makes them Dellionaires.)

There’s a photograph of them in the salon, taken at a wedding, Bar Mitzvah or some such affair. (Do WASPs also go to “affairs,” I wonder, or are they just simply called parties?) Mr. Owner is an expensively groomed 60ish man whose garmento past is not quite expunged. His deep Florida tan is set off by a chalk-white evening jacket. Such contrast might ordinarily make him worthy of notice, but he pales completely behind his wife, a klieg-lighted billboard for some nameless plastic surgeon, an overachiever if ever there was one. There’s no way to tell what she used to look like but her now-generic face is an immobile Kabuki mask surrounded not by a helmet, not of lacquered black but of hammered platinum. So shocking is she in her utter impossibility that I forgot to notice her dress!

The yacht itself is, design-wise, a mixed-metaphor of epic proportion. The salon is a sort of Versailles afloat, complete with pseudo-Grand Master oils -- of innocent nymphs and chaste young women gazing rapturously heavenward -- set into thick carved gilt frames of gargantuan over-proportion. The veiny, marble-tiled back hallway, which leads up to a slick steel-and-glass, state-of-the-art entertainment center and a navigation/control room, is done in a quasi-Venetian nautical theme, its centerpiece a polished steel banister embellished with a trim of braided rope chiseled into brass. Everywhere are undertones of Bronx Tasteless -- take the 6-foot tall spiral sculpture of carved polyester intended to fool you into wondering whether it’s a priceless ivory elephant tusk bought after labyrinthine negotiations and at insane cost or an oversized shofar looted centuries ago from the First Temple in Jerusalem. There’s actually one of these in each of the four corners of the salon. It’s the design equivalent of too much garlic in your Puttanesca sauce.

Nothing symbolizes the unhappy marriage of elegant to overdone than the boat’s name: Cookie Monster.

We were invited to dinner there last night but they’ve made it eminently clear they came to see Jackie and Mel, and not us. This is understandable and appropriate but requires adjusting to. So, Gary and I are on our own, a bit of a shock after so much togetherness, but really quite fine. What’s made it difficult, is that we have no dinghy. So most of our time these last few days has been consumed with trying to buy a new one, whether on foot, with borrowed dinghy, or on Lulu. Once again, we have yet to tour this island, though our quest took us over to the Dutch side of St Martin for one day and night, during which time I’m sure Jackie and Mel could breathe a sigh of guiltless relief.

Buying a dinghy motor in the midst of countless large yachts and a long string of islands ought to be easy, but this is boating, so forget it! If you narrow it down to just a 30- or 40-horsepower Yamaha, which we did, it seems every dealer on each different island has a different model and tells you he has the best. The guy in St. Martin, who somehow bamboozled us in to believing he did, didn’t even have the 40-horsepower we went to buy. So we returned the next day, after a double dinner, meant to make us feel better, of mediocre sushi and even worse Italian.

We sailed back here to St.Barth’s – we’re getting to be regular jib-setters – bought a monster of an engine, which drives our little dinghy like a freight train powering a Volkswagen. Last night we could dinghy to an inspired local restaurant, called Maya’s, owned by Maya and her husband, Randy, a former Nantucketer who sailed down here and never came back. He gave us all kinds of places to go and an itinerary to get there – which we were too besotted to remember.

What else is new?

 

 

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