Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Ship's Log

Sunday, 9/7/08. Bailed eight inches of rainwater, gift of Hurricane Hannah. She was a well-organized storm, even a compartmentalized one, dumping the rain in two installments and releasing her winds between them. Actually, after I’d bailed and even sponged, a puddle kept appearing near the transom. It turns out that the false chest, or whatever you’d call the hollow space under the seat in the stern, is full of water. Pete noticed before the storm, when we were battening down the hatches, that she is listing to starboard and suspected as much. I unscrewed the wooden seat and lifted it off: the water was seeping out of a tiny fissure where a screw had pierced the fiberglass. I added it to my list of things to worry about when the season is over.

I left the marina at about 5 P.M., heading up the bay on the outgoing tide, with the wind at my back. I didn’t know exactly where I wanted to go. I steered out toward a big red buoy, and suddenly there was a boat behind me. It was the Boss out on the bay, with a party of people in his boat, all grinning at me. He wanted to talk! I have trouble recognizing people I know out on the bay, basically because I can’t believe I’m out on the bay, much less that I know people who are out on the bay. Also, it’s not easy for me to hear over the sound of the engine, and I can't turn it down very far, either (that idle-speed-control gizmo again). Finally, I caught what the Boss was saying. “How long did it take you to bail out the boat?” he shouted. “About twenty minutes!” I shouted back (not counting the time I spent screwing around with the lid on the water trap).

The Boss asked where I was going, and I vaguely indicated north, toward Howard Beach, but I didn’t really know where I wanted to go. There’s the osprey nest in that direction. I turned in a circle, testing conditions. If I went very far east, up the bay, it was going to be a choppy ride home. I always hesitate to go west on the outgoing tide, for fear of being swept out to sea. So I headed south, into Vernam Basin, where there is a marina and a cement plant visited by a barge heaped with gravel or something. I figured it would be sheltered from the wind in there. I started from way back near a buoy and lined myself up with the middle of the channel, because the chart shows submerged pilings on either side.

I was going alongside the marina, trying to stay out of trouble, approaching the wall of old tires that the barge docks against, when some people in the marina started waving at me. I thought they were saying I shouldn’t go there, so I turned around. I took a closer look at them, and there was no doubt about it: they were waving me in. Oh my God, it was M. & D., the couple I saw on Labor Day, him on his bike on the boardwalk, her in the hot tub in her fabulous back yard. There were two other couples with them, and a pair of swans. “They’ll move,” D. said, when I hesitated to displace the swans. So I came alongside the dock, shifted into neutral, cut the motor, handed D. a rope, and I was at a hurricane party.

It was as if they'd been expecting me. D. handed me a Corona, offered me crackers and cheese, gave me a cooler to sit on, and introduced everybody. There were stories about Florida and the hurricane and someone's glasses falling overboard and waiting for low tide to dive for them. D. pointed out an osprey perched on a pole and gave me his binoculars for a closer look: it was a very raffish-looking bird. At one point we heard a blast from a horn: a boat called the Little Prince had returned to the marina and found me in its slip. The men moved my boat, not by getting in and starting up the engine but by using the rope to guide her into position and tying her up alongside another boat.

As the party wound down, I got ready to leave, in order to be back before sunset, at 7:17. The men looked over my boat as I got in. My chart of Jamaica Bay was lying on the seat. “This boat is missing two things,” one of them said. “A cooler and a G.P.S.” Actually, I have a cooler: I showed them the discreet silver quilted insulated bag that I’d salvaged as flotsam from the bay—flexible, room for a pack of blue ice, a bottle of water, and two beers. I think they were just kidding about the G.P.S.


tricia said...

I love all the female pronouns in this. Make me feel uber.

erieblue said...

My favorite phrasing--"swept out to sea":brrrr and "raffish."