When The Sails Are Stowed

There are thousands of reasons on hundreds of days that made him happy to be living on a boat. Winter, in New York, however tested him every year.

He lay in the v-berth before dawn. The wind howled through the rigging while it blew snow upon the deck like tossed sand. He was bundled between a comforter and an electric blanket, rapt by the  whispers above.

But strange things happen when the weather turns grumpy and cold. The hull glows cold. Roll over in bed and exposed skin screams when too near to that glow. It was that kind of jolt that pulled him out of bed and in the direction of a pot of coffee.

1501181_10152719803877263_8906885950518866894_oHe looked around the cabin. The starboard-side port-lights were covered with a glaze of ice; the port-side drifting snow. Aft, he jammed open a frozen hatch to look outside. A pile of snow dumped on his head and down the back of his pajamas.

Others, he knew, had found themselves trapped inside their boats by a cocoon of ice fed by the escaping heat coming in contact with a cockpit full of drifting snow. He supposed he was lucky.

He closed the hatch, shook out the snow and turned on the kettle for coffee. The man clicked on the pilot light of his propane heater and sniffed the gas briefly as blue flames wafted through the grate before settling over an increasingly orange ceramic element.

The cabin warmed into the fifties though the boat’s sole chilled him through his socks. His toes and ankles complained and tendons cramped. He alternated holding each foot to the flame, just close enough so not to singe his wool socks.

Dressing took 20 minutes, mixed with sips of coffee and poking up through the companionway to watch the moving snow illuminated by the day’s blue first light.

And a cigarette.

Removing layers of pajamas for layers of the day: Socks, underwear, thermal bottoms tucked into socks, thermal top tucked into bottoms. Jeans. Polo-neck top tucked into jeans, a sweater, a down vest. A scarf and wool pea coat. A wool cap.

And a shot of rum.

He opened the hatch and removed the wash-boards. The wind caught him in the nose and froze his snot. He stepped out and replaced the companionway boards. His glove-less hands whinged as blowing and dislodged snow collected on his digits. Closed up, he rubbed his wet and aching hands on the inside of his jeans. He pulled on his gloves.

The man headed to shower at the bathhouse at the other end of the marina, sliding his feet over and through the ice and drifting snow on the dock.

Off with the gloves again, he scraped ice off the windshield of his Jeep with a Visa card. He dried his hands on his jeans again and jumped inside the cab. It was as cold as outside but with no wind or snow.

He turned the key. The battery complained but started the engine. He put the transmission in low 4WD, released the clutch and went out of his way to hit the larger drifts. 163129_490232427262_3391813_n

His Jeep was also a locker. He kept his towel and washcloth hanging on a line between the roll-bars. Usually they dried pretty quickly. On cold mornings like this they were both frozen blocks. His toiletries were stored in a canvas bag shoved behind the driver’s seat.

Inside the shower room,  he undressed, piling his clothes on the back of a plastic chair, in the reverse order he dressed, ensuring he would re-dress in the correct order. He turned on the water in a stall and waited for steam to fill the stall. Inside, the frozen washcloth went limp under the hot spray. He wondered why his feet stung in the heat and the cold.

The shampoo, which doubled as body wash, was bitterly cold but still liquid. The conditioner, however, was frozen solid. He held the bottle under the hot spray for five minutes and then cajoled a few icy blobs out of the bottle.

Finished, he grabbed the towel, forgetting it had been an ice ball a few minutes earlier. He mostly dried off, the towel was still damp from the day earlier and still frigid. He wrapped it around his waist, shrinking all it touched, and moved over to the sink.

He used an elbow to force toothpaste out of the tube and onto the brush. Without thinking, again, he plunged the bristles into his mouth. His teeth crackled, his sinuses shriveled and the attached sinews tugged on his brain.

Before long, he was dressed again. His toiletries, towel and washcloth properly stowed in the jeep, he caught the ferry across the Hudson, and plodded, bent over against the wind, to the Chambers Street subway station and work.

A few hours later, the low sun peaked through the towers of midtown Manhattan. Its rays fell warm on his cheek through the window near his desk.

He sat back and closed his eyes. And dreamed.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. … ” and dreamed of the day, when his boat would be docked, warm and secure in Marina Jack harbor in sunny Sarasota, where he knew he’d Never have to scrape ice off the windshield again!”

    1. Mo Tamman says:

      I remember a couple of frosts while in Sarasota but they were rare, for sure.

  2. Dave says:

    Brings back clear memories of wintering at Norwalk Cove Marina. Cheers

    1. Mo Tamman says:

      Clear is not the same as fond, I assume.

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