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Soul Music Page 2

At Sea — October 2004
By Capt. Bill Pike

Soul Music
Part 2: These days, Buffett’s songs are still tops for boats in my book.

Illustration: Joseph Daniel Fiedler
 More of this Feature

• Part 1: Soul Music
• Part 2: Soul Music continued

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• At Sea Index

But the mate’s job changed all that. I can’t think of a job this side of brain surgery requiring more concentration and calm than driving a Morgan City tug/supply boat during the mid-1980’s, particularly when it came to transiting the twisty, highly trafficked Atchafalaya River after dark in the fog. Not that doing such a thing was necessarily safe or even legal, but it was common back then when Merchant Marine officers like me, threatened with firings and layoffs during an oil-biz downturn, were doing crazy stuff to keep their jobs.

Henry Mancini. Burt Bacharach. Perry Como—the soothing orchestral tones of these guys are what I associate with the years I spent on the Atchafalaya. Even today, whenever I hear “Moon River,” low and mournful, I get a deep, subconscious urge to stick my head into an old Decca radar and start steering with an NFU jog control.

A more energetic theme surfaced when the oil-field business finally tanked and I moved aboard my own boat, complete with candles (for light, not atmosphere), a giant cooler (for booze, not food), and a battery-draining cassette-tape player. My work life changed at the same time I began my un-air-conditioned stays in a mangrove-fringed South Florida marina; I started making voyages on oceangoing tugs to places far away. Recordings of Peruvian and Chilean bands began rattlin’ the ol’ cassette-tape player. How vividly I recall those long-ago nights when, not cruising the high seas on tugs, I’d lay on the plastic cushions of my V-berth, in clammy pools of sweat, listening to folk tunes of the Andes at full blast, while bullfrogs croaked, mosquitoes buzzed, and neighboring yachtspersons yowled uncouth insults.

Things weren’t totally bad during this era, however. In addition to the World Music I was discovering, I stumbled across singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett’s stuff, thanks to an engineer I did a trip to Haiti with. Eddy owned every album of Buffett’s. Moreover, he’d periodically attempt to emulate his hero, although Eddy couldn’t carry a tune in a five-gallon bucket. Nevertheless, I subsequently acquired many of Mr. Margaritaville’s albums myself and enjoyed them on the job and off.

These days, Buffett’s songs are still tops for boats in my book. As proof, consider the delivery trip I did several years ago with little more for music than Buffett’s Banana Wind album. As things turned out, the CD played almost steadily for the ten days it took two other hardy souls and me to shepherd a feisty Nordic Tug all the way from Fort Lauderdale to St. Thomas, without tangling too significantly with a hurricane that was bashing around the Carribbean.

But here’s the best part. Instead of hating the dang album at the end of the trip, I came to love it and continue to do so, mostly because it’s extraordinarily evocative.

Ah, yes! Monster seas. Dog-drooling seasickness. Flaring tempers. No coffee. Every time I listen to the album now, I can’t help but think, man, what a great time we had!

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This article originally appeared in the September 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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