Sunday, January 3, 2010

With the Wind at His Back


At Starbucks a few days ago something happened that made me sigh and sent my heart rate up one notch on the metronome. A man in brown slacks, a tan dress shirt, and a short, black overcoat, walked by and turned into hallway. A woman--just out of my range of vision—waited outside the women’s restroom, and I heard the man breath out an “Oh.” He tried handle to the men’s room. It turned and the door popped open a few inches. He pushed it wide and then swept his other arm from the direction of the waiting woman to the empty men’s room and smiled in an unsolicited gesture of gallantry. She must have turned down the generous offer for he mumbled out, “Are you sure?” She, again, must have declined, for he dipped his head, sent her a smile and with an “Okay,” slipped into the room and closed the door.

I find this type of gallantry appealing, especially from a man. This may be another one of my flaws, but if a woman had done that I would have thought she was particularly sweet, but it would not have made my heartbeat quicken. When the man came out, I hid behind my computer and watched him leave, my lips tilting up in a wistful smile.

Dave Hayden at Timothy Lake

I had the good fortune to meet a chivalrous gentleman not too long ago. His name is Dave Hayden. For those of you who live around the Portland metro area, you know of the Hayden Island Yacht Club. On a warm summer day, you can sit on the dock at the Island CafĂ© and watch the yachts glide by on their way to adventure. I asked Hayden if he hailed from the family upon which Hayden Island was named. A flicker of a smile flitted over his lips before he shook his head, but in my mind I’ve no doubt he’d one of them, as he carries the same classy magnetism and easy elegance of a man raised in the best social circumstances.

A few years ago, Hayden read an article about a couple who had spent two weeks aboard a tall ship, learning to haul in sheets and unfurl sails in the bawdy ocean breezes. It reached into his subconscious and bore into his brain like malware. Brains have no antivirus scanners. It slithered and wound its way until he found himself applying to board the Lady Washington for a two-week training course to become a “volunteer”.

He remembers his elation as he boarded, but he also remembers how foolish he felt. He knew nothing about sailing. He “was the worst landlubber” one could imagine. To make matters worse, he came aboard with another man who built models of tall ships and knew every sail, every halyard, and every brace. “But,” he said, “the captain and crew of the Lady Washington were great.” They really wanted to teach him and he really wanted to learn. It was a marriage of desire and opportunity.

Within a week he and the other landsman were ready to climb to the top of the mast—a sort of rite of passage for a sailor. But, the fates were against him. Not the capriciousness of weather, but of visitors. They had a full complement of passengers and Hayden was asked to stay ashore in order for the ship to remain within safety limits. He sighed. It was only a three hour passage, after all, and he had a whole week left to accomplish his feat.

They set off from the harbor and hoisted the mains’l, to the delight of the passengers, and disappeared over the horizon. Now, in modern times, one tends to forget that sailing on a tall ship is dangerous. One false move, one misplaced foot, one muscle spasm can have the same disastrous result as it might have had two hundred years ago. And on this day, it did.

His fellow landsmen fell from the rigging.

“I knew something was wrong when I saw the Lady returning early, her sails furled, but without the gaskets stowing them neatly in place,” he said. He looked past me at the wall while memories ignited within. His eyes returned to me. “And then I heard the sirens.”

As the diesel engine ripped through the water toward port, the thwap-thwap-thwap of a helicopter grew nearer. Paramedics and fire trucks screamed to a stop at the water’s edge. The ship glided up to the dock and crew swung from ropes across the expanse of water to the wooden platform. Ropes were thrown. Passengers stood silently. Gurneys and backboards and respirators waited. Crew wrapped lines from amidships around the cleat, belayed the stern, secured the bow.

“The ambulance took him to the helicopter and he was ‘life-flighted’ to OHSU. It was a harrowing time for the captain and crew. We were all transported to Astoria where we had to submit to drug testing.”

I nodded. A lot of business requires such testing, but I wondered if this were a maritime requirement.

“And we had to wait for the results before we were cleared to get underway a day or two later.” He looked at me quizzically. “You know, I’m glad I wasn’t there. Really, I am. He was my shipmate and we had gotten to be good friends. But, in some ways it separated me from the rest of the crew. I became an outcast, even worse than a lubber trying to fit in with able seamen.”

I knew what he meant. Experiencing trauma unites people. My first full-time job at Toys R Us saw twelve-hour-days and no days off in an effort to get the new store open in time for the Christmas rush. The employees were mostly young, hardworking people and friendly with each other. When I finally had a day off, a couple weeks after opening, a couple of blood thirsty gunmen held up the store, shot the security guard and made off with a bag of money from each of the ten cash registers. The criminals were caught, the guard recovered, but I always felt excluded from the inner circle after that.

It wasn’t as if the crew meant to make Hayden feel outside the camaraderie of shipmates, but not being there at the catastrophic event makes one sit outside the window and look in as the others close rank.

“It was really awful for them. It was traumatic,” he explained. They were short-handed and routine chores took more thought than usual. They needed help and he valiantly offered to stay an extra week. The Lady Washington agreed with a sigh of creaking wood. As is the case with shipboard trauma, life had to go on and the crew rallied. During that extra week, things got back to normal. The sailor who fell recovered. Hayden returned to his land job and the Lady Washington eventually sailed over the horizon to new ports.

Hayden hasn’t returned to the Lady Washington, although he could. But the life; the sailing, the sea, did its work during those weeks. It captured him and has not let go. He built a small sailboat and has sailed on his own. He is currently building a Navigator. He sent me a link, but I cannot download the picture. It is currently just the framework of the hull.

He has a great deal of pride and admiration for the captain and crew of the Lady Washington and it doesn’t surprise me. Accidents do happen, but once it did, the captain and crew did everything right to save the life of their crewman. That wouldn’t have been possible two hundred years ago. If not for their professionalism, their quick-thinking and their ability to do all that is necessary to bring the ship back in, the results may have been different.

Then Hayden did one more gallant thing, which sent my heart rocketing. He handed me his copy of the “Lady Washington Crew Training Manual.”

“Here, you may have this,” he said, and smiled. “For your research.”

I’m a pushover for gallant gentleman. I “friended” Hayden on facebook and “followed” both his wife and him on twitter. What is more, they’ve followed back. I feel so privileged. And a few days ago I asked him to send me a picture of himself for this blog, which he kindly did, with an embarrassed disclaimer. How sweet is that? I look forward to seeing both Hayden and his wife sometime soon, perhaps at the launching of the still unnamed Navigator he building (hint hint). I’ll bring the champagne.

Fair winds, Dave Hayden, and may you always have following seas.


  1. Very nice man. Cute too. But I can't help but wonder if you are just trying to get a ride on the new boat. Hee hee.

  2. Dear Anonymous,

    HA! I can honestly say that wasn't my intention. least not until now!

    And I recognize your typing, by the way. Heh heh.

  3. Nice story oh too true. Handsome man doesn't hurt in the telling of a good tale in my book!

  4. No, he didn't and, in fact, he still loves sailing. How cool is that?

  5. Wow what a GENTLEMAN Dave is! and good looking to boot! But I'm really curious about the other guy that sounds like a horrible accident and he's still sailing that's amazing!

  6. Well, I'd say thanks, but I have nothing to do with Dave being a gentleman. I'm intrigued by the gentleman who fell too. He seems awesome.

  7. I'm curious about the injured man also. What were his injuries? Must have been serious to be life-flighted! How long did it take him to recover? What was he thinking as he fell?! (Besides, O Sxxx!)
    I'm also curious as to the circumstances under which you met the handsome and charming Mr. Hayden? You skimmed over that part! What a lovely gift! Does he expect a part in your book? Maybe the handsome captain will start to look like Mr Hayden??? TELL!!!!

  8. Dave Hayden (Lady Washington Dave) read my blogs in the days leading up to the trip and made a comment. I was so thrilled to get his comment, I asked him to email me so I could ask him a million questions. He did! In the just finished book, the Lieutenant does not look like Dave. However, there is always the second book. Hmmmmm. :)

    The gentleman who was injured lives far away. I cannot meet him for coffee without a passport. I'm glad I'm not the only one intrigued by him. I cannot imagine most men would ever want to sail again, but he is no ordinary man. His is a story that needs to be told.

  9. Hi all
    I'm the one who had the accident, and I'm well and alive.
    I just sent Melanie a rather long-winded account of my story, and I'll leave it up to her to publish what she sees fit here on her blog, rather than cluttering up the comments section.
    In short, i broke a lot of bones, and it took me about a year to get back in shape.
    I've returned to the Lady Washington twice since, and gone aloft again, too.
    Here's a description I wrote of my first return:


  10. Wow! What a post and the comments are just as amazing! Very cool!

  11. Oh, and Melanie, I'm not sure if you've decided whether your book will be YA or not, but here's a link to a contest, (and good resource blog) just in case...

  12. Lukas,

    I'm so excited you left a comment. And I'm honored too. I haven't read your email yet, but I will right away! Thanks so much.


  13. Peggy,

    Thanks for your comment. I'll take a look at the sight. I'm thinking Young Adult would be okay for my book except there are no vampires in it.

  14. You could start a trend! Non-vampire YA lit :) And Lukas so glad you are ok and got right back on the ship.


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