The Big Chill

“I will not whistle on the boat.”
“I will not whistle on the boat.”
“I will not whistle on the boat.”
…to be written in the logbook 100 times.

We sailors are a superstitious lot. To appease Neptune, we pour perfectly good alcohol overboard each time we have a drink in the cockpit. We perform complicated de-naming ceremonies to make sure he isn’t confused when we rename a boat. We seek a virgin to pee in the bilge when it’s time to christen a boat, and hope that the child we select doesn’t get the wrong idea about peeing all over our boat the rest of the time. We fret about whether to break a bottle of champagne over our precious bows or just pour it instead. And whether the cheap stuff we drink is good enough for the sea gods, or if we should buy something nicer than usual.

So when Kris caught me whistling on board, he raised his eyebrows. I stopped. It’s called “whistling up the wind,” and it’s another one of those superstitions.

Evidently, I did not stop soon enough. In the Edisto River yesterday, between Charleston and Beaufort, South Carolina, I saw 33 knots of wind on the wind instrument. Today, the temperature has not been above 36 F. There’s icy slush on the deck.

I am sorry. I am very, very sorry. I promise I won’t whistle any more.

But that’s not my only bad habit. Our first day on the water was just as cold as today. While I was at the helm, I put Shakira on the stereo — hot salsa music. Standing in front of the new cockpit speakers, I was dancing back and forth behind the wheel, stamping my feet and doing belly dance shimmies to stay warm. Suddenly, there was a sharp “crack!” The teak grate beneath my feet, beautiful original equipment, had developed a severe crack.

The guys came out and looked at it, shaking their heads. They effected some temporary repairs, and Barry marked them with a Sharpie: “No Dancing Zone.”

“I will not dance on the boat.”
“I will not dance on the boat.”
“I will not dance on the boat.”
…to be written in the logbook 100 times.

I doubt my behavior has brought the wrath of Aeolus upon us, but I can’t be sure. I will try to behave with proper decorum here in Beaufort, South Carolina. I fear that if I don’t, my mother will turn over in her grave — yet another superstition! And since her final resting place is about a half mile from the marina, near the house where they filmed “The Big Chill,” I’m not going to take a chance.

Just to be on the safe side, I’ll ask for an official blessing from Saint Mom. She never got to see me at the helm of an ocean-going sailboat, but I know she’s watching out for me, somewhere. Along with Aeolus and Neptune and Yemenja, and the whole pantheon who take care of belly-dancing, accordion-playing whistlers on sailboats.


What’s that infernal beeping? It’s the alarm going off. Looking up at the hatch overhead, I see nothing. Absolutely nothing. It’s pitch-black.

Where am I?

Barry is nestled beside me, but I can barely make him out. His head and face are hidden inside a fleece hood, and only the top of it peeks out of the sleeping bag.

I struggle out of the heap of bedclothes, remembering that the reason the hatch is black is because the dinghy is upside-down on top of it. Sitting up, I peer out the porlight.

After two and a half years in one place, this simple act of looking out the window is exciting.

I am on Flutterby. That’s a good thing. Flutterby is on the water. That’s a good thing. But where am I?

A few minutes later, after I’ve added more layers of clothing, I slide back the companionway hatch and do a 360-degree scan of the horizon.

The first thing I see is my own breath. It’s a frigid, 25-degree morning. Before me, I see a large, protected anchorage with a half dozen boats, their anchor lights glowing in the pre-dawn. On shore, there are many lights and illuminated signs, and a huge hotel. There’s a low fixed bridge, with taillights and headlights zooming across on the way to work. It’s six AM.

I know this place. This is Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina.

The first time we anchored here, it was aboard Cayenne. That was the first time we ever got a wi-fi signal on an anchored boat — in 2004. I remember Barry huddling in the forward part of the v-berth with the laptop, because that was the only place where the signal came in.

A few years later, we passed through on Flutterby. That was three years ago — literally, to the day. It was just as cold, maybe colder. We took the cover off the engine and huddled over it for warmth. On another occasion, we stopped here in the van, in the summer, to see a friend. We ended up dinghying out to Katja for dinner.

As I reminisce, the horizon beyond the hotels is turning orange against the indigo sky. It’s time for hot coffee and yet more layers of clothing.

Barry pulls up the anchor, and motoring slowly, I take us out of the anchorage. I cast a last glance over my shoulder at the sun, which is just peeping over the horizon. The windows on the sides of the hotel have turned to molten gold.

Channel markers point the way to another day’s adventures. I have no idea where I will awaken tomorrow.