Autumnal Update

Sunrise over Back Creek, 3 October

I pumped up Further‘s dinghy this morning, one of several chores my faithful steed required after having been neglected for the better part of two months (the other big chore: washing all the bird shit off the deck). The tubes once again all taut with air pressure, I took the dinghy for a spin on Back Creek to go visit a couple of friends. I should have known such a trip would set me off but I went anyway. Oh well.

Why did it set me off? Because of patterns staring me in the face. It’s boat-show time here in Annapolis so that means Back Creek and Spa Creek and damn near every other creek and Annapolis Harbor and all the marinas in the area are chock full of boats in town for the show. And a good percentage of them are tackling last-minute chores before they head south for the winter once this weekend’s show concludes.

Which is right where I was at this time last year. And as we all know, I did not go south. And I won’t be going south this year, either. In fact, I’ll be going north. Just in time for winter.

What? You don’t know what’s going on? Well, I guess it has been quite some time since I’ve posted anything here, so let’s bring this chronicle up to date, shall we?

I’ve been living at home up on Plum Island since late July. I went up there to get my car its annual inspection and wound up having to stay to take care of some family drama. I returned to Annapolis for four days in mid-August to pack up pretty much all my junk and settled in at home while my brother took care of his medical issues. I’m happy to say he’s at home again and doing well — one day at a time, as they say — but in the interest of his long-term health, he’ll be heading out west at the end of this month.

Which means I will be living at Plum Island and caring for the house for the foreseeable future. In the coming months, I will try to get some of the pressing matters that still face our house addressed, chief among them the dormer that leaks into the living room during big nor’easters and the bathroom pipe that freezes during cold snaps. In addition to those two big-ticket items, there are innumerable little things that need addressing since my parents did little to no maintenance over the 20 years they lived in the house. Once the major issues are addressed, my brother and I will decide what happens next to our family home on Plum Island.

In order to make all this happen, I will have Further hauled out of the water and stored “on the hard” at a marina here in the Annapolis area. Come springtime, I’ll relaunch her and take her north to New England for the summer of 2020. And hopefully, I’ll be able to have a few projects done on Further over the winter months to improve her for next year’s cruising.

At least, that’s the plan.

Income being required in order to, you know, eat as well as do said projects on house and boat, if anyone has any job leads in northern Massachusetts, I would be most appreciative.

In the meantime, it’s been mostly nice being back on Plum Island. We’ve had surf and the water’s been wonderfully warm. But word has gotten out and now when we get a swell it’s like being in Southern California again: 30 freakin’ guys in the water all hassling for waves. Needless to say, given my snobbish attitudes about Plum Island waves, this does not sit well with me. But there’s not a lot I can do. And I figure most of the clowns will disappear when the water gets cold.

And it’s also been nice being back in Annapolis for the past week. I came down to do some digital work for my part-time employers and also to help them with the boat shows currently going on here in Naptown. I also, obviously, came down to check up on Further. I hope to take her out for a couple of hours in the next day or two, but we’ll see. I got in a skate Friday morning and will skate again Tuesday morning and Wednesday night, and it’s been good falling in with the old crew again.

I’ll head north on Sunday or Monday, the 13th or 14th, and then, on Wednesday the 16th, I’m flying to Mallorca — my first time ever in Spain — for the 50th birthday party of Marlies, of Boogie-and-Marlies fame. It’s been a year and a half since I’ve been out of the U.S. so it’s definitely time. And it will be great to see my old sailing friends on such an auspicious occasion.

I get back on the 23rd and take my brother to a couple of medical procedures on the 24th, after which I’ll head back down here to Maryland to haul out Further and winterize her. Which will be a somber occasion but a necessary one. If she’s on the hard I won’t have to worry about her over the winter. And I obviously won’t be here to take care of her so…

Again: at least, that’s the plan. Stay tuned to see how it all turns out.

Fair Winds and Following Seas, Sailor

Jill, in green, and the crew of Pure Puur in Bermuda in May 2013.

Jill and I were the graveyard watch the first night out of St. Maarten bound for Bermuda in 2013. We were crewing for my two Dutch friends, Boogie and Marlies, aboard the 70-something-foot luxury yacht the two pro sailors were running for a couple of rich Euros. I had first crewed for Boogie and Marlies in May 2010, also leaving from St. Maarten, that time bound for Newport, Rhode Island. And I crewed for them all summer long in 2011 as we three ran charter trips in the far northern Atlantic: northern England, the Shetlands, northern Norway, Iceland, Greenland.

So to say I’d had some experience with how Boogie and Marlies liked their trips run would be an understatement. And I had connected Jill, whom I’d met on a crewing website, with Boogie and Marlies when they were looking for crew for this trip to Bermuda.

True to my form, I puked up dinner the first evening out of St. Maarten. Whenever I haven’t been to sea in a long time, the first evening’s dinner pretty much always comes up. By the time my next watch rolls around I’m back to full pique and good to go for the duration. But maybe that colored some of Jill’s opinion of Luke the sailor during that late-night stretch. After all, she was a big-time racer, having been flown all over the continent aboard a private jet as part of the crew for some big-shot boat owner from Chicago. Key West, San Diego, Annapolis, Newport…Jill had raced in all the big-time regattas and here she was stuck with some so-called sailor who couldn’t keep his dinner down?!

Maybe that’s why Jill looked at me with such disdain when I told her NOT to mess with the sail trim on that late-night watch. I knew from experience that making such a racket might gain us another half-knot or so, but it was definitely going to wake up the skipper. And he had just gone to sleep and did NOT want to be jolted from his slumber. He’d put me and Jill on this first graveyard watch precisely because he knew that I knew how he wanted things to go while he slept.

But Jill’s racer mentality was new to cruising, to delivering a yacht, and she couldn’t help but tinker. Thing is: on a 70-plus-foot luxury yacht, the winches are electric. And electric winches make noise. A lot of noise. A lot of low-pitch, rumbling noise that makes even a 70-plus-foot yacht shudder.

She’d only rumbled through a couple of turns on the winch before Boogie’s head was poking out of the companionway wanting to know what was wrong. Nothing was wrong, Jill told him, just trimming the sails to try to get a bit more speed. He looked at me — after all, I’m the one who’d arranged for her to be on this trip — and all I could do was smile and shrug. It’s a long way to Bermuda, Boogie told us. Let me sleep for a few hours, please. You can trim the sails during the daylight hours.

Boogie went back to sleep and I couldn’t help telling Jill that I’d told her so. I did so with a laugh. And she took it with a laugh. And we had a great trip to Bermuda.

And that was how I connected with Jill. It was the beginning of a mutual ball-busting friendship that was filled with a lot of laughs and a lot of exasperated sighs whenever I’d chastise her about tweaking the sails for another half-knot.

When we got to Bermuda, Jill and Marlies went out and did girlie things. Shoe-shopping, I think. And together the entire crew enjoyed some of the sights of the island. As the other crew members filtered back to their homes in the real world, Jill and I took time to explore the nooks and crannies of Hamilton, Bermuda, and also several of the world-famous beaches on the island. She indulged my marathon walk to the Mid-Ocean Club, a golf course that had been the namesake of a prep-school friend who’d grown up on Bermuda’s Strat-O-Matic Baseball team back in the early 1980s (my team, the Honolulu Tubes, won the inaugural season). We must have taken half a dozen different buses and walked a good 10 or 12 miles in the course of our wanderings, but we saw corners of Bermuda that probably not a lot of tourists see. And we had a blast.

Jill came to visit me in San Diego in 2014, after I had reentered the work force and moved back to Southern California. We had a nice weekend and the next time I saw her was in July 2015 when I was in Chicago for the Grateful Dead’s final three shows at Soldier Field. Jill bicycled to the downtown area to say hi to my friends and I, and then she was off to play tennis, a passion of hers.

That was when I first saw that she was fighting the cancer. Before it had just been an abstract concept she’d explained to me in emails and on Facebook. But there in Chicago, as she wheeled up on her bicycle, she had an American flag dewrag on her head and looked thin, gaunt. Like someone dealing with chemo. But she also looked fierce, like someone you did NOT want to mess with. This chick was tough. It was clear cancer didn’t know what it was getting into when it decided to pick on Jill.

As part of her battle, Jill went to Boston on a regular basis as part of a medical trial at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. She was also part of a trial at, I believe, Northwestern in Chicago. She was NOT going gently into that good night, and the next time I saw her, in Newburyport where she came up with her boyfriend from Salem to have lunch, she seemed as fit as a fiddle. That must have been in 2016 or 2017. And in 2018, after I’d bought a sailboat of my own in Annapolis, Maryland, I asked Jill if she wanted to help me take the boat back to New England. She said she definitely wanted to go, we just had to coordinate the trip with her schedule in the trials.

The crew of Further after arriving in Newburyport, Mass., from Annapolis, Md. (from right): Jill, Captain Ed and yours truly.

Which we did, and Jill, along with another friend, Captain Ed, helped me bring Further back to Massachusetts in July 2018. It was a fun trip, filled with a bit too much motoring, a bunch of really fun sailing, some scary weather off the coast of New Jersey, and good times in Block Island and Newburyport. While chugging along offshore she explained the various trials, which in the way she described them just seemed to me like her new normal and something she’d deal with for a long time to come. She was also vociferous in her disdain for the hypocrites at organizations like Susan G. Komen who were more interested in fundraisers than in actually curing cancer.

After the three of us got to Plum Island, we took Further out for a daysail off Plum Island and gave her a proper sail, complete with hoisting the asymmetrical spinnaker and ripping along at a great clip. Jill was in her happy place trimming the chute, constantly making micro-adjustments to keep the sail in proper trim and Further rockin’ along at full speed. We had a blast and it ended up being one of the best sails of the season.

By all accounts, Jill was winning her fight. She looked fit and healthy, and we had a lot of laughs both at sea and at the house on Plum Island. Then she went back to Chicago and in the fall I returned to Annapolis with only Captain Ed’s help. And Jill and I went back to staying in touch via electronic means again.

It was in a text message in late winter this year that she said she’d entered hospice care. I didn’t know much but I knew that wasn’t good. Jill didn’t elaborate and we didn’t really talk very often after that. I sent her a happy birthday text in early June and got a reply that said only, “thanks.”

And then today I learned that she passed away on June 30. Marlies sent a text message to which I could only reply, “Oh shit.” I went to Jill’s Facebook page and there it was: a string of birthday wishes in early June and then nothing until a post a couple of weeks ago by a friend saying she’d passed a couple of weeks before that. And with that, another funk settled over my world.

I realize I’m like the old man raging at the clouds when I say that I am getting SO fucking tired of having friends die. So be it: fuck you, clouds. And fuck you, death. Jill was a good one, with a great soul and kind heart and a captivating sense of fun and humor. She was also tough and strong. She fought bravely but apparently it wasn’t enough. Does anyone have enough? If Jill didn’t, I kinda doubt it.

Fair winds and following seas, sailor.