What?” I yelled. Or at least, that’s what I think I yelled, many moons ago, when I was teetering on the ragged edge of teenagery. My English teacher had just informed me that my upcoming summer vacation would be obliterated by summer-school classes, one every weekday, for weeks on end, down in a dank, musty basement. Although I was not totally resistant to the charms of academe at the time, I gotta say—this news horrified me.
What about my life afloat? I had a little green plywood skiff tied to a tree. With a Sea King outboard. A dog named Buck who loved to ride around with me. Friends who loved riding, too. And, still lingering in the golden haze of the wondrous summer I’d been fantasizing about since Christmas, I had visions of long sun-dappled Adirondack afternoons, explorations of mysterious, unfamiliar waters and, in the evenings, around our dock, mounds of tasty, après-swimming hotdogs and hamburgers.
Summer school failed to boost my IQ, I’m afraid. A decade or so later, with a freshly-minted license from a maritime academy, I was working in the commercial shipping realm and living, when “on the beach,” as they say, aboard a gorgeous, little blue-hulled Seabird Yawl in a marina on the west coast of Florida. My take on life was pretty much the same as it always had been. Sure, the dog was gone—having a dog is hard for a liveaboard merchant mariner. But I had plenty of friends and the afternoons were as sun-dappled as ever. There were still lots of mysterious, unfamiliar waters to explore. And, in the evenings, I continued to enjoy a decent cheeseburger now and again, especially if it came from The Beach Pub, hard by the shores of Boca Ciega Bay, just a short bicycle ride from my marina.
Complications arose, however. Although summer school was no longer an issue, I began having to deal with intermittent social obligations that would crop up at the marina and, due to the recalcitrant nature of the ol’ Seabird’s ancient two-cylinder diesel, an occasional visit from a hefty, super-loquacious marine mechanic. And while I don’t recall ever standing the long-winded mechanic up, I certainly dodged lots of the truly social stuff, preferring to simply spend my time on my boat doing exactly as I pleased. Would you expect anything less from a salty guy whose formative years were ravaged by months of summer school?
Of course, eventually, the Universe took me in hand. Once I’d bailed out of the commercial shipping biz, I stumbled into a process of socialization that, sometimes subtly, sometimes not so subtly, continues to hound me to this day. It began, I suppose, with my entry into the marine magazine business—or rather an office in the marine magazine business—complete with regular hours, female colleagues and a morning commute. And, as if such civilizing influences were not enough to squeeze the hedonism out of me, car payments soon followed, along with house payments, and, ultimately, marriage to a woman who believes—and always has—in the importance of conscientiously supporting friends and relatives by attending their weddings, birthday parties and funerals.
But boaters are a cagey lot. Right? They never throw in the towel, not completely. So, given what I’ve told you thus far, I’d say you’d be totally justified in suspecting that my approach to social obligations these days—at least, the ones that occur ashore and preempt the perfect boating weekend—retains just a whiff of lighthearted deviousness.
So, sure! Yeah! Absolutely! I’ll attend that wedding of yours next Sunday—I’ll even wear a rented tux if I have to. And I’ll be on hand for little Tommy’s birthday party on the Saturday after that, too—hey, I’ll bring the tyke a cake. But if there’s somebody at either soiree who loves boats as much as I do, and he or she is willing to talk? Well then, pardner, it’s “Katy bar the door!”