Friday, June 12, 2009


Imagine leaving your toddler alone for fifteen months, tethered to a post in the backyard. You wouldn’t neglect him completely, because that would be unkind. Instead, you’d seek out a responsible caretaker, like the borderline alcoholic you found wandering the docks. This person might be persuaded to provide food and water in exchange for beer money. He would look in on your baby twice a month, pat him affectionately on the head, and check his lines for chafe.

After one year’s time, your child would probably survive. He would look like a feral wolf, crouching in a pool of his own filth and attempting to express himself by making paint out of dirt and the bodies of crushed snails. While other children were getting ready for school by learning their colors and counting from one to ten, your baby might bond with a large, hairy spider he found crawling around in the grass. He might hold it close, and learn to love it in some basic, primal way. Or, he might snatch it up and eat it for additional protein.

Essentially, this is the state of Sereia after a year of neglect. We did pay someone to board her and run her engine twice a month, and he pumped the bilges occasionally, so that the cabin sole wasn’t flooded with noxious black ooze. She didn’t sink, and she didn’t float down the Hatea river and out to sea, for which we are very grateful. It appears as though the critical organ systems—the hull, rig and rudder—are all intact.

Everything else is a fucking mess.

The bottles of scotch we purchased in Panama, on the other hand, are in great shape. When we first boarded Sereia, we immediately excavated the tangled disaster of dock lines, diesel jugs and fenders to get to the booze locker. I poured two healthy shots, then handed one to Peter, who was sitting quietly in the quarterberth, muttering to himself.

“Da da?” asked Silas, looking inquisitively at his father. But Peter was in his own private hell.

“Run the engine and fix the steering column and check the rudder—how can I check the rudder?—and service the chainplates and the head doesn’t work and where’s the waterpaddle for the windvane and what about the roller furling and I can see rust on the turnbuckles, I know there’s rust on the turnbuckles, and the windlass, I’ll have to rebuild the windlass, and there’s leaks everywhere, this whole place is a fucking sieve…

Peter paused for breath and knocked back his scotch. I rolled my eyes impatiently. “Don’t be such a drama queen. We’re only going to Fiji. It’s a thousand miles, for Chrissake. What’s the big deal?”

Peter’s eyes began to water. Silas opened a starboard locker and pulled out a scraper, a sort of metal razorblade covered in lead-based paint. “NOT FOR BABIES,” I informed him, snatching it away. “Here,” I said. “Play with an oily rag. It’s much less toxic.”

“Now.” I turned to Peter, pulling out a notebook. “Let’s prioritize.”

So we did. The first priority, we decided, is to make Sereia liveable, because we will be homeless in one month’s time. This involves a sort of primitive triage, in which we ask ourselves: what is necessary for life? Hot water and refrigeration, it turns out, are not necessary. They are pansy-assed luxuries for the hopelessly land-bound. But even the hardened crew of Sereia, it turns out, has to eat and shit.

“But the head is frozen solid and the stove is dead,” Peter protested, looking desperately at his empty shot glass.

I refilled it for him. “See? There you go. That’s where you start. Fix the head and the stove. Then we can think about less important things.”

“Like the rudder?” asked Peter. “Because I still don’t know how I’m gonna check the rudder. We’ll have to haul out, or careen her, or—”

“Pish-posh.” I cut him off. “We can’t go cruising without Eggs Benedict. Start with the stove.”

Silas smiled cheerfully, a warm, earthy stench wafting up from his pants. And then it occurred to me.

How the hell do you deal with diapers at sea?

And all of a sudden, a thousand miles seemed like a hell of a long way away.


  1. Hope you've got many more posts in ya 'Tonia, they're a breath of fresh air.

  2. Looking at that chipping paint on all that curvy wood is making me all twitchy. The head and stove though, that I know nothing about since Time Machine did not boast such high-tech devices.

  3. Tell Peter to look on the bright side. You guys have a boat. I have a rapidly depreciating condo I am hoping to sell in order to buy a rapidly depreciating boat. I can't sail what I have. Then again, neither can you, until the rudder is examined. Humm... I guess we are in the same spot after all.

  4. Eddy and I laughed to the point of tears reading this. Fortunately the most important thing is still intact: your sense of humor (and the liquor cabinet).

  5. I'm so glad you're posting again! I loved your previous blog and I already love this one.
    Silas is a cutie and is going to have a great time.

  6. If you'll send fare for me and my tools I gladly be there Friday next. I am now,apparently, considered by some to be an expert in almost everything nautical since I rebuilt and have now finished the rerebuild of Turtle. I am having to do penence for all the help I was given after the hurricane. My friends have as many projects as I have my own.

    Now all I have to do is win the lotto and I can afford to go sailing again...........m

  7. Jim said: 'I told Peter to get rid of that toilet!'