Life Aboard LULU

May 30, 2012 (If You Want To Get a Laugh Out of God, Tell Him Your Plans...)
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For a while last summer it looked like we’d never see Italy’s Boot--she’d grabbed us by the jaws and wouldn’t let go.

Now isn’t being stuck in Italy most people’s dream? Sure, it’s great when you’re talking spaghetti vongole and nocciolo gelato but not when it’s mangled boat parts and lacerated shins.

Let’s start with the yard we ended up in after our run-in with the sea buoy that wandered into our way near Viareggio last July. We thought we’d be out of there in a week or two. Instead we got stuck there for most of August while they diddled away getting things wrong.

Lusben—Italy’s finest repair facility--was exactly what we would’ve expected in Trinidad.

The paint? Forget mirror finish, the hull surface rippled like a lake.

The wood on the toe rail they joined like the Fendi sisters putting darts in a dress.

The first bow-rail contractor’s skills stopped at bending a strand of al dente linguine into a curve. The second could bend steel—except his railing was fit for the Queen Mary and overwhelming for LULU.  We had no choice but to accept it or we’d have been there for the winter.

Parts we were awaiting were always “just around the corner”…Which corner--Broadway and 72nd maybe? Everything was going to happen  “eemeemiately”…and then took 10 days.  The only thing that happened “eemeemiately” was producing a $50,000 bill (for the insurance company). And the only thing that happened smoothly (aside from the double-talk) was hauling us out of the water in the 600-ton lift like we were a canoe.

Lusben in Italian. In English, Loseben.


Lulu overboard!

One day we had to move the boat within the yard.  Should have been an easy maneuver. Just off the dock, my captain instructed me to move the dinghy toward the stern from where it was clipped onto to the lifelines up near the bow.

Lifelines do what they say. They keep you from falling overboard. Except we didn’t actually have “real” lifelines up at the bow just then. They were drooping up there since we had no bow pulpit to attach them to. They needed replacement after our accident the previous month. Remember? Well, I sort of didn’t. I leaned over to unclip the dinghy…and fell in the water. 

On the way down my left shin scraped against the lifeline’s steel cable--shredding a nice long piece of skin, with a bit of leg meat attached. 

Because Gary was still on the boat and couldn’t get off the boat and because my leg was bleeding pretty good and because dockworkers were involved, an ambulance was called. By the time it arrived, Gary was off the boat and so followed us over to the hospital.

Now Italy has free health care for all. And I’m not a Code Blue or Red. I’m a Code Green, maybe one notch above Code Yellow, which is maybe you came in for an aspirin.  Fortunately when I arrived only three people wre ahead of me. Because the room rapidly filled up, I got seen after maybe 3 hours, by which time I’d made a friend or two.

(I’ve found that while it’s hard to make friends in a foreign country where you don’t know the language, where everyone’s busy living their own lives, one sure way to meet the people is to have an accident. Everyone is, without fail, helpful and you too have got to stop your  own busy life and there’s time to interact with them.)

So the ambulance drivers couldn’t wait to help me with my Italian.  (Had I been able to talk Yankees they’d have married me.  My new friend Lucia, using 40-year-old elementary-school English, helped me negotiate the hospital bureaucracy.  I met a sculptor who somehow recognized me from our four visits to Pietrasanta. We chatted about Boteros and Bruschettas.   Or was it Brunellos and Botticellis? Whatever…it kept the What did-I-do-now? worries at bay.


Gary also brought me my iPhone--with it I could snap a shot of the doctor inserting 3 black stitches. (Will go with almost everything I wear.) Speaking of outfits I was so fixated on having him bring my iPhone I forgot to ask for a change of clothes, so spent all day in wet salt-water rags.

Meanwhile back at Bottega Viareggio, at last the bow-rail metal arrived. And was finally correct. And was now at the right fabricator…not the one we’d already fired because he couldn’t bend a piece of al dente linguini properly.

So now what?

They couldn’t work on it.

And why not?

Nothing sinister like they’d suddenly noticed we’re Jewish.

No, it’s because they didn’t have the right tool to bend it.

And they just noticed this?

But even if they could get this tool “eemeemiately” it would cost 4000 euros. That’s euros, not dollars.

So we did the job in a thicker material...Which could have happened a month ago.

We could’ve been out sailing…Without stitches and bandages on my leg.

A friend recommended a nearby lawyer. We don’t need an Italian lawyer, we need an Italian hit man.

Another friend--he of the former FBI career--wrote: “Keep the faith...and pay Giuseppe whatever he wants.  And whatever you do...never, never, insult his father.”

Still another: “If you want to get a belly laugh out of God, tell him your plans.”

The bow pulpit got finished in five days. It overhangs the bow like a mouthful of buckteeth. Bears no resemblance to its former shape. Neither does my leg, for that matter. But we accepted it because we couldn’t take any more.  We threw off our lines and sailed back out into our lives.


But you should see the other guy…


We made it a point to pass by Bad Buoy on the way out. We looked far better than he. His government did a whole lot more for me with its free medical care. No one had been out to check him over since our unfortunate run-in. Which certainly works for this Still-Bleeding-Heart Liberal. Go ObamaCare, say I.





LULU’s own take on JAWS

Looking back we realized that Italy’s love affair with us really started before our ill-fated Viareggio accident—back in Le Grazie when we dropped a little stern anchor to keep the dinghy from bashing into the dock. When we returned to pull it up, it wouldn’t budge. It was entangled in a submerged steel cable. Gary leaned overboard, grabbed it with our boat hook. Some engine gunning, some wobbling, some teetering, and we’re free.

Grazie, le Grazie.  But that was just a dry run for what’s to come.

Then, newly free of the boatyard and back in Elba, LULU’s main anchor dredged up a very long, very heavy ½” thick steel cable. We couldn’t drop it.  Fortunately, some young, strong Aussies raced over in a dinghy and helped. Free again.

Just another rehearsal.

Next in Porto Santo Stefano LULU’s anchor attached itself to a 1” steel cable.  Absolutely no one around. Snarled around it, a giant mass of fishing nets, maybe 200 pounds.

Remember that huge pirate ship replica we saw in Genoa--made for some Roman Polanski movie?

“If Polanski remakes Great Expectations, this netting could be Miss Havisham’s bridal veil,” says Lulu.

“Never heard of her,” says Gary.

So while Lulu is casting movies and changing her leg bandages, Gary spends an hour prying, jiggling and crowbarring. And we’re free.

That was the Dress Rehearsal.

The Midnight Feature opens in Porto Ercole, less than 24 hours later, as we weighed anchor, starting a 15-hour run south to Ponza to meet Jackie and Mel for another Very Important Meal.


Gary’s Take:

Hanging from the anchor is a gigantic assortment of 2” ropes, cables, fishing nets and rusty steel parts of things. Judging by the way our hydraulic anchor windlass is groaning on the way up, this mess must weigh at least 1000 pounds or more. We can’t budge it. Because it’s not just what we see—whatever’s dangling is hanging below maybe 60 more feet.

We aren’t going anywhere. Ever. We are permanently shackled and cabled to Porto Ercole, outer harbor.

Eventually, I work out a game plan. I hang far out over the bow, literally holding on by my toenails, flashlight in my teeth, trying to tie some ropes around the cables. Also trying not to fall overboard.


My ever helpful and supportive crew person, AKA The Gimp, can’t resist a monolog on my dilemma. She calls Mel, wakes him up at 1AM and spends 10 minutes laughing hysterically at my frustrations and antics. Thank you very much. Grazie mille.

I wasn’t laughing. But I was able to tie some ropes around the cables, connect the ropes to LULU’s powerful winches, and after an hour and a half of yanking and prying and winching and just a bit of cursing, we’re free.

Is this some sadistic Woody Allen Movie? Or is this just Life aboard LULU, The Reality Show?

Can’t wait to see what’s next.

Life is good,



Lulu’s AKA The Wounded Gimp’s Take

I protest this heavy-handed (even heartless) sarcasm when—despite the recommendations, solicitations—no, actually, the orders--of 6 or 7 random Italian doctors plus specific American specialists, to wit,

one burn/plastic surgeon;

one infectious disease man;

one Son-the-Doctor;

one gynecologist (possible spread northwards from affected, infected shin)

plus some 7 amateur clinician friends to the effect that said Gimp remain resting, prone, even abed, leg propped high above heart—there I was forward, at the anchor, encased in my plastic waterproof boot, standing--NO, limping--at the side of the quick-witted Captain, rushing hither and yon; wielding flashlights; hauling and lowering anchors; winching lines; offering hot coffee and hosannas of encouragement; snapping photos for posterity…

And, yes, in a moment of total panic as I looked over at the very, very nearby rocks we could, in only seconds, crash into…

And to stave off the persistent impulse to call the Coast Guard I did call Mel and did collapse into hysterical laughter at the absurdity of this almost exact impossible situation happening twice in ONE DAY.

And, yes, I did wake Mel to describe this waterfall of crap snarled on our anchor, this hideous Neptune’s macramé of

discarded mooring lines from thoughtless yachties;

decades of torn and rotted fisherman nets;

centuries, maybe even millennia, of encrusted ropes from Spanish galleons and English warships and just plain old pirate ships attacking the enormous brooding dark Forte Filippo looming high above us…

And probably one or two of modern-day Porto Ercole electrical cables.  

So did the village look a good deal darker when we finally got free and high-tailed out of there? Possibly.

And so I object. Really, I deserve retractions, empathy, ah-poor-babies and a botfle of Limoncello to salve my sore shin and wounded feelings.

Despite this protest, through all these challenges My Captain has been creative, resourceful, ingenious and magnificent.

Even if his feet are, as usual, filthy.


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