Sunday, March 3, 2013

First Impressions are Hard to Forget

 I've been so busy helping to coordinate the Z's impending drydock on Tuesday that I haven't had the energy to write anything. Finally this morning, I sat down with a few cups of coffee and concentrated on editing some of the finished chapters for "Prepare to Come About".

This chapter was terribly fun to re-read. It describes our very first trip as volunteers on the ship. Juliet was so young!   We were so naive about what was in store for us-- and here it is:



"Prepare to Come About" --Excerpt from Chapter 8


It was a beautiful, sunny day in early summer of 2007. I relished the short break I was taking away from Gracewinds. We stood at the end of the public pier in Port Townsend waiting for the Zodiac. The small town bustled with tourists, and I found myself being jostled about as onlookers crowded to the railing for better views of the water.

            Behind them, antiquated brick buildings stood sentinel over the comings and goings of the waterfront: small Beetle Cats skittered about near the shore and several cutters and sloops raced an imaginary course through the deeper water.  Port Townsend had a long standing history of maritime lore. Named by Captain Vancouver in the late 1700s, the little haven grew famous for its safe harbor from the turbulent coastal waters of the Pacific Ocean. These days, the summer tourists and Wooden Boat Center were its economic mainstays.

            We chatted with others on the dock as we waited for our ride to appear. Jeffery met a couple from Denver and animatedly traded Colorado climbing stories with them. Juliet held the attention of a number of onlookers as she regaled them with stories of the Zodiac and our impending trip to the Tacoma Tall Ship Festival. “We’re going to go to this big show with tons of tall ships just like the Zodiac!”          
“What kind of a boat is the Zodiac?” asked one of the tourists. “The only Zodiac that I’ve heard of is a rubber dinghy.”

            “No-no, this one’s a schooner,” Juliet informed him.

            “Is that like the old fashioned pirate ships?” asked an elderly lady.

       “Actually, a pirate ship is kind of a square-rigger,” Juliet patiently explained. “Schooners have two masts—sometimes even more. But the main mast is the tallest one … that’s the mast that’s farthest back.” She Added, “Zodiac just has two masts.”

            “What about that little one out there with two masts?” a younger woman inquired. 

           “Oh, well, that’s called a ketch. We have a ketch, and her name is Sugaree,” she said matter-of-factly.

            “A ketch,” Continued the woman , “what makes it a ketch instead of a schooner then?” 

            Juliet pointed at the boat. “See her little mast in the back? That’s the mizzen mast and it’s shorter, so she’s a ketch. If the little mast was behind her wheel—well it would be called a yawl.”

            “See that one out there with the red sails?” a boy about Juliet’s age interrupted. “What’s that kind of boat called?” 

            “Sloop,” she said instantly. “Oh, wait, no, it’s a cutter. If they have just one mast they’re either a cutter or a sloop. It just depends on whether they have two stays for their headsails.”

            “My goodness, how does a young woman such as you know so much about boats? How old are you?” All Juliet’s listeners nodded in questioning agreement.

            “My dad taught me,” she answered. “Also I learned on the Zodiac. Captain Tim knows a lot about all the boats—he even knows the different kinds of square-riggers. I only know about the Lady Washington and she is called a brigshe starred in Pirates of the Caribbean!”  

            A bearded gentleman with binoculars was scanning the various boats on the horizon as Juliet gave her impromptu tutorial. He spotted a ship in the distance and set the glasses down long enough to turn and asked Juliet what he was seeing. “Is that your ship, little sailor?”

            Juliet stood on her tip-toes and squinted. I followed the direction of their gazes and saw a gaff-rigged schooner far out in the distance. 

            “Oh yeah! That’s her! That’s the Zodiac!” Juliet yelled, “Mom! Hey, Dad! The Z’s here!”

            The crowd of tourists watched and waited for the tall ship to come closer. Gradually the great schooner rounded the spit of land that was Point Wilson and everyone got a closer look at her. There were a number of gasps and comments of awe. I saw with pride that she flew all four of her sails and was making way nicely as she headed toward the shore of Port Townsend.

            Juliet jumped up and down at the rail, barely able to contain her excitement at watching the ship arrive. My heart skipped a beat as well. She was a sight that never ceased to amaze and delight me. I could feel my anticipation build and couldn’t wait to get back aboard her. Jeffery edged up next to me and put his chin on my shoulder, saying, “She’ll do in a pinch, huh?”

   The sightseers were awestruck. Zodiac slowly paraded past the town, slowing in her course as her sails were lowered one by one. Her white hull stood brilliant in contrast with the deep cerulean blue of the bay. The reflection that she cast ghosted before us in the rippling water. By the time she had reached the end of the buildings downtown, her sails were doused and she pointed her prow to create a great sweeping arc. We watched as the crew lowered her tender over the leeward side. 

            “Amazing!” said the woman next to us. “You all get to be on that boat?”

            “She is simply beautiful.” …“How old is she?...” “How big did you say she was?”
… “Where is she from?” The tourists fired questions at us rapidly.

             Juliet, however, was no longer interested in answering questions; her mind was bent on one purpose—to get onboard the Zodiac. “Come on, Mom and Dad! I don’t want them to leave without us!”

            We gave our farewells to the group of onlookers and made our way down to the lower dock. The tender would arrive there shortly to ferry us back to the ship; they’d made the  stop in Port Townsend just to pick us up and we felt extremely special.

            The Zodiac was on her way back from Victoria, British Columbia, where she’d participated in the city’s Tall Ship Festival. The day had started with a race for all of the ships that had participated in the show and we’d learned  that Zodiac’s Captain Mehrer had taken a different tack than the rest of the fleet, which allowed her to speed well ahead of her competitors. They’d finished so far ahead of the pack that it explained why she was the only tall ship in Port Townsend by that time.

            The grey inflatable tender motored up to the dock where we stood. A young man whom we didn’t recognize drove the boat. He gave us a perfunctory smile and looked past us toward town. Jeffery strode forward and offered his hand. “Hi there, we’re you’re cargo I believe.” 

            The young crewman gave Jeff a puzzled look and shook his head. “I was told to come here to pick up Jeff and Christine. I am not sure who you guys are.”  

            Jeff gave me a quizzical look and turned back to the young man. “Uh, well, my name is Jeff and this is my wife, Christine … although she goes by Chris most of the time.” 

            Juliet piped in with, “And me--Juliet! I’m coming too! …did they tell you about me?”

            The young man smiled and shook his head. “Well, damn. Sorry. I didn’t realize we had two pairs of Jeff and Christine on the roster these days!”

            “What’s he talking about, Mom?” Juliet whispered. 

            “I dunno, sweetie. But let’s just get our things in the boat.” 

            As we piled our bags into the tender, I handed him my French press pot. He smirked. “You know, we do have coffee on the ship, right?”

            “Yeah, I’ve tasted it.” 


            He threw us each a large puffy orange life jacket. “Here, you’ll need to fasten these up before I can let you in the tender.” Though we knew this, we didn’t say anything and just snapped the three clips and cinched them tightly before climbing into the boat.

            Before he engaged the engine he said, “Well, welcome aboard you guys. My name is ET.  I’m the mate on Zodiac.”

            “ET? Like ET phone home?” Juliet asked. 

            “Yeah kind of…,” he answered. It was obvious he’d heard that comment once or twice before.

            “So, you’re not the captain’s son then?” I asked. “I heard that he was on during the sailing season.” I was curious to know what Captain Mehrer’s son was going to be like. I doubted he could possibly be as solemn and intimidating as his father.

            “Hah! Nope, definitely not Calen,” ET said with a grin. “Yeah, he’s on board. You’ll meet him shortly.  We’ve gotta really full ship for this transit down to Tacoma. I put you guys in a cabin.”

            We spent the rest of the brief ride to the big ship in silence. I was nervous as to what to expect. There were so many new crew members that we hadn’t met during the winter refit period. ET seemed like a likable kid, though. Kid—shit, he’s barely older than my twins and he’s a first mate! I felt my insecurities rise and hoped we’d fit in, and that I wouldn’t make any foolish mistakes.

            The tender came alongside Zodiac as she idled with the current. A boarding ladder was placed over the side and we climbed onboard. Everything felt so familiar, just like she was last winter when we had sanded and varnished her for weekends on end. But with her running-rig back in place and fully crewed, she had a much more important and busy air about her. She was her working self once more. We looked about the decks quickly and received waves from some familiar faces as well as neutral nods and casual salutes from many strange new ones. Intimidated, I hurriedly grabbed my belongings and went for the passageway to below-decks.

            Juliet followed me into our stateroom and characteristically called for the best (and biggest) bunk. After a few minutes of negotiating with my eight-year-old, I won out and claimed the big berth for Jeffery and myself. We tossed our belongings onto the shelves and hurried back up on deck to find Jeffery.

            I saw that the ship had already cruised away from Port Townsend, now just a hazy wisp on the shoreline in our wake, and settled mid-channel where her preferred depth existed.  The apparent wind that we made as we sped forward prompted me to send my daughter in search of our jackets. I found Jeffery in a predictable place—up in the rig.

 “Hey!” I called. “That didn’t take you long! What are you doing?”

            “There’s a twist in the boat falls here. I’m just trying to trace it down so we can work it out.” 

            Jeffery climbed down from the ratlines. He landed on the deck with a thump and gave my shoulders a squeeze. “How ‘bout this?!” 

            “Yup. How ‘bout it…? It feels really good to be back.”

            For the next several hours we relaxed on deck. The other crew members, the ones we were unfamiliar with, introduced themselves throughout the afternoon. We learned that we were the other Jeff and Christine, the second married couple with those names to work on the Zodiac. I wondered if we’d measure up to our predecessors.

            Jeffery, of course, fell in with the foredeck crew immediately. He soon had his needles and palm out and set about whipping the ends of the new jib sheets. It occurred to me that Jeffery and the three other sailors busily stitching the lines on deck resembled the ladies sewing circle from my grandma’s Kiwanis club. I searched around for a project but found I had little to offer in the way of skills for such ship details. 

            Eventually, I found a comfortable spot on the salon roof and lay down to read. Soon enough, my daughter’s piercing voice cut into my reverie. Caaaaay-len!” she screamed, exaggerating the first syllable. I sat up and peered around the deck, partially out of motherly concern, but mostly out of curiosity. I wanted to identify who this Calen was.

            I spied my daughter, rolled up in a deck cushion like a burrito. She had been wrapped and tied, attached to the gantline, and lifted several feet above the deck. ET stood with his arms crossed, laughing while another teenaged boy hauled up on the line. “Enough, Calen! That’s high enough!” Juliet yelled. 
            “You kept teasing me. You wanted to go up higher,” Challenged the teen.

            “Okay, okay. No more teasing. I promise,” Juliet whined.

           ET looked over at me, “Whaddya’ think, Chris? Will she stop teasing?”

            “Well, historically speaking, not a chance. You’d best get a written agreement before you bring her down.” 
           “How ‘bout this, Juliet,” ET suggested,  “we’ll let you come down, but if you tease Calen or me any more … just once more—you’re goin’ overboard. Have we got a deal?”

            “Yeah, yeah, I promise!” she squeaked.

            Calen eased Juliet down to the deck and she wriggled out of her confines. She got to her feet and whacked Calen on his arm. “You’re so dead!” she called and ran below. Calen rolled his eyes and knelt down to untie the deck cushion. 

            “So, I take it you’ve gotten to know my daughter.” 

            He looked up at me and grinned. “Yeah, well she’s sorta’ hard to ignore.”

            “We blame her two big brothers for causing that,” I said. “My name’s Chris, and you’re Calen, right?”

            “Yeah. So, you’re the other Chris and Jeff, huh?”

            “So I’ve been told.”

            He rose to his feet. “Well, welcome to the Z. I hope you don’t hold it against me if I keel-haul your daughter.”

            “I’ll try my best to forgive and forget.”

                                       .     .     .

    That evening, the Zodiac dropped anchor south of Appletree Cove off Bainbridge Island. Everyone enjoyed dinner on deck and watched the sun set behind the Olympics. We sat together in a circle on the quarterdeck, trading stories and allowing the darkening sky to settle upon us. I felt my stress melt away as I soaked up the thick blackness of the night, absent of all the ambient city lights. Our voices were the only noises in the bay. We talked and laughed and then just sat together for a time without speaking. The tranquility all around became almost tactile, as if I could reach out into the night and touch the stillness. And then, one by one, we said our good nights and went below to our bunks.

 If you would like to read continuing excerpts from this chapter, go to the
 10/30/2012 post "Tall Ships"


1 comment:

  1. Great writing, Chris. I'm really enjoying it.

    I don't know if you've noticed, but it's becoming more fluid, finding its natural lope or cadence or I don't know quite what the term should be. You know, there's that certain sweet angle when you're working your way though a groundswell? Musicians encounter something similar together, calling it "playing in the pocket". It's not that you've arrived at your ultimate ability, but it's a sure sign that you're on the right path.