Saturday, November 28, 2009

Lady Washington Part 3

The engine rumbled and diesel fumes fouled the air. What happened to the briny scent of the sea and the whisper of wind in the rigging? (Okay, I knew we were on the Columbia, but I still expected some salt air.) Where were the gruff commands to hoist the mains’l, holystone the deck, loose the cannons? After forty-five minutes of rain, hail, rain, I'd had enough experience with the grim reality of bad weather. I scowled. The crew pattered about their tasks without regard to conditions. Shipboard life went on regardless of daylight, darkness, sun or rain. The five other passengers managed to amble topside with steaming cups of hot coffee.

I didn’t get anything to drink. I’d made that mistake in the Caribbean. On a trimaran we’d been issued rum punch along with our life jackets. High winds and huge waves drove most passengers aft to hang over the rail and retch. The rest of us clung to the ropes on the outer hulls to keep from being swept into a pile of wreathing arms and legs in the center netting. With my

free hand, I brought my cup of rum punch to my lips. Blaaak. Salt water with just a hint of fruit nectar and rum. I wouldn't make that mistake again.

No way did I want hot coffee with chunks of hail and diesel dust.

But wait, what was that?

A rainbow off the stern chaser?

Rays of warm sunshine? The sky lightened. My heart sang. A reprieve.

The crew scampered to the brightwork, polishing the brass to a spotless sheen. Daisy, the gunner, worked on the ship’s bell.

Dash, the first mate, polished the runners of the after cabin hatch. Forest climbed into the rigging to check lines.

This was more like it. Every move they made I quietly committed to memory (okay, yes it is merely ram until I commit it to my hard-drive notebook with a pen), still leaning against the belaying pins on the quarterdeck. And then I heard Bruce talking to the captain, Jeremiah.

And it was about me.

I’ve been sailing on a 42' Catalina in the San Juans off the coast of Washington with Bruce as the captain. Ryan had captained a 42' Beneteau. Nelson, like me, crewed. Before we boarded the Lady Washington I told them I wanted to remain anonymous. An invisible observer. "Okay," they said, nodding their heads and eying me like I was crazy to think it would be otherwise. They seemed to understand my request.

But now I heard my name. I inched aft.

“And then Melanie,” Bruce pointed to me, “brought a whistle with her. Ryan captained the Kipper Kite and I captained the Raven. Whenever I left and reboarded, she would blow the whistle.”

“Blow the whistle?” Jeremiah asked. His brow knit and he glanced at me, his mouth dropping open like he’d just discovered he had a fugitive aboard.

“It was a bosun’s whistle,” Ryan confirmed. “She was piping the captain aboard.”

“Every single time,” Bruce complained. “I’d jump to the dock and grab my duffel and my charts, she’d pipe me aboard again, And when we moored that first night we were stern to stern in a quiet little bay so we could walk back and forth between the Raven and Kipper Kite.”

“And she’d not only pipe him aboard, but she’d pipe me aboard, too,” Ryan added.

Jeremiah gaped at them. I thought I’d better defend myself. “It was a sign of respect,” I explained.

“And then another boat, the Dream Catcher, came in beside us. We knew her captain, Phil.” Bruce shook his head and sighed as if I had murdered the man and tossed his body overboard.

It vexed me.

“She piped him aboard, too,” Nelson chimed in.

Jeremiah’s eyes flicked to me and back to Ryan and Bruce. “Well, at least she doesn’t have the whistle this time.” Although he said it as a statement, it was oh so much a question. Poor man.

“N-no, I don’t have it,” I stammered. I had been conducting research aboard the Raven, for crying out loud. Research is okay, isn’t it?

Nelson paused beside me and raised his knuckled hand. A bosun’s brass and copper whistle dropped down from the chain wrapped around Nelson’s fingers and swiveled in the breeze.

Jeremiah’s eyes widened and Bruce and Ryan stiffened. My shoulders dropped. Oh dear lord. “Noooo,” I squeaked. “I’m not going to blow that.” Sheeez. So much for remaining anonymous. I gave them a weak smile and lowered myself down the ladder to the waist, hoping to lose myself in the activity amidships. I watched Beth for a few minutes and asked her a couple of questions. I whipped out my little pad of paper and pen and asked a few more. She answered them with a bubbling excitement, a broad smile flashing through the dripping rigging.

Some of the crew began a training session, tying knots and working with rope ends, under the direction of Dash.

Forest swung up the main mast.

Sara perched in the bow, watching for obstacles.

Laura, the cook, climbed up the gangway. “Main course is served. Main course is served,” she shouted.

The six passengers nodded politely and remained where we were. Laura knew how to handle a crew. “And, I must tell you, our crew is hungry. But they cannot eat until after the passengers eat, so please come below now. We have a thick corn chowder and homemade bread, all vegetarian, but I’ve also set out lunch meats if you prefer meat. There are also fresh cookies.”

We straggled down the gangway (no easy task for my torn unmentionable muscle) and filled our bowls with a hot chili pepper corn chowder to die for and bread still steaming from the galley stove. Laura waited until we found places to sit on the benches before she called the crew. They trampled down much quicker than we had.

After the midday meal we returned topside. Steam rose from the deck in the early afternoon sun. Beth sat on the forecastle hatch and motioned me over. “Since you’re writing a book, you might want to join us for our afternoon training.”

My jaw dropped. “How did you know I’m writing a book?”

She leaned back. “Well, your husband said so.” Her eyes floated up to the quarterdeck.

My shoulders slumped and I cranked my head toward the stern. What part of anonymous did men not understand? “Which one is my husband?"

She pointed to Bruce.

I’d make Bruce pay later, the rapscallion. “Yeeeaaah. No. He’s not my husband.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.” Her cheeks turned pink and she hunched her shoulders.

I sighed. “It’s fine. Yes, I’d love to hang out for your training.”

Part 4 to follow.


  1. LOVE IT! Those are Fantastic pictures! especially of the rainbow! And I love the cabin dog helping to keep a look out :)

  2. There was actually a double rainbow, but my camera was a piece of junk and I couldn't capture it.

    Yes, "Tiller" the dog was an old salt.

  3. Did you really do all that piping? I'm impressed. Do you do other calls as well? Like "all hands" and "clear for action?"

  4. Well now, Jenku, since I've tried to talk you and your wife into sailing the San Juans and I've also hinted I'd like to tag along for a day, it would not be in my best interests to answer that question, would it? You've heard of our "Fifth Amendment?"

    I will say I know the call for a captain boarding, a person of importance but not a captain boarding and "all hands", but I will not admit to actually using them.

  5. I think this calls for a Youtube video. The piping, I mean. Great adventureblog.

  6. I should have been a boatswain. I'm ooooh soooo good with the whistle. I mean, I would be if Bruce's story were true.

  7. There's another part!!!???? Are you kidding me? I'm going to scan the Mickey Mouse pictures and post them!
    Congrats on being "a person of note" who needs anonymity from time to time. Altho if the piping annoyed the captains maybe the anonymity is to protect them?
    Cousin Karen

  8. Lovely as always a pleasure to read!

  9. Karen,

    Piping the captains aboard was RESEARCH! Sheeez. I did learn not everyone seems to appreciate that form of respect.


    Thanks. You are very sweet.

  10. Melanie,
    I made the passage five months earlier and really enjoyed it. I'm writing a children's book set partially on tall ships. This was part of my research. Here's my blog from that month:

  11. Sperryhunt,

    It is such a beautiful brig, isn't it? Good luck with your book.


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