On Saturday, January 4th, I watched as Seaward’s crew brought their vessel neatly to the dock at the Newport Sea Scout base in Southern California. We had been at sea for four days and five nights and were at the end of the first leg of our three-month-long chartering season. And while this wasn’t my first role as charter-boat cook, I had certainly faced many challenges and was grateful for the week’s end. However our time in port offered little respite as I went about reorganizing the fridge and pantry and writing up a new provisions list. Over the following 10 days, I would have to feed 14 adults, three times a day. Mac ’n cheese would not suffice.
Captain Jay hired a car and drove us to Costco. As we began filling our oversized carts, Jay did his best Jaws reenactment with an understated, “We’re gonna need a bigger car.” But hours of playing Tetris proved their worth, and we squeezed every box, bag and package into the small hatchback and returned to the dock, where we organized a bucket brigade to ferry the stores into the galley. What seemed like hours later, with my hands thrown into the air like a hog-tie champion, I declared the provisioning “Done!” That was the easy part.
The next day we greeted our new passengers and identified those with specific dietary needs — two gluten-free eaters, one of whom could eat no nuts other than peanuts. Easy, I told myself, and for the most part it was. I had provisioned accordingly and could offer various alternatives. The real challenge was keeping up with 14 hearty appetites — our new guests ate more than the teenagers who’d sailed with us from San Francisco! On the ninth day, one guest told me I had now prepared 560 meals. What? Neil is an experienced pilot and enjoys stunts in his own biplane. I trusted his math and was happy that he didn’t tell me the numbers at the start of the trip.
To my own surprise I began to develop a rhythm and found I was able to spend more time on deck. I still wasn’t doing any real crew work, but I did enjoy time watching the dolphins surfing beneath the bow, observing whales from afar, chatting with our guests, and even doing some yoga. Not bad at all, I thought. And though I was officially exempt from watches I took myself on deck for the midnight to 2 a.m. shift, just for the experience. I was not disappointed.
The air was still quite cool and everyone was dressed in heavy jackets and beanies, and I had laid out teas, hot chocolate mix and cookies to warm the night-watchers’ bodies and hearts. Mine included. Sitting in the cockpit with darkness all around and a sky so full of stars — it looked as if the wind had blown a bagful of glitter onto a wet black canvas — was actually very enjoyable. And then there was the company. The midnight watch was a happy crew, with Bobby (so called to differentiate him from the other two Bobs) and Dave sharing stories of sailing, music and life in general. Bobby and Dave met more than 30 years ago when, through a mutual friend, they became boat-share partners, an arrangement that still holds today. Apparently they even featured in a Latitude 38 story about the longevity of their boat-share.
But there was still more joy to be found in the night watches. On one particularly moonlit night, I spotted dolphins below the bow and was mesmerized by their beauty and grace as they played in our wake. How could anyone ever tire of such a sight?
And then there was the night of the shadows. While lying on deck, visually exploring the star-filled sky during the 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. watch, I saw a black patch appear directly above me. I felt as though Harry Potter’s dementors had come to life. Several minutes passed before I allowed myself to believe the shadow was real and I called to my fellow crew. They looked up and saw it as well. Soaring at the top of the mainsail as though riding the currents was a bird. “Put a light on it; let’s see what it is,” someone suggested. I ducked below to get a flashlight and immediately regretted my decision — not surprisingly, the bird took off. Some discussion ensued, and it was agreed the shadow was a frigatebird. We were around 15 miles from shore, and the bird, or birds, had come along for the ride. Watching them from below it looked as though a dark force had rent a hole in the sky and left nothing but emptiness.