TEMPTEST TOSSED AND THE RED CAP
The day was perfect for sailing. Sunny, warm but not hot, gentle breezes and fleeting clouds.
Just south of Astoria, well outside the shipping lanes, we were cruising at about three knots when I was violently thrown from my bunk and slammed to the deck in a heap. It was as if an explosion had gone off in the cabin. Everything that was not bolted down was scattered about – most of it on top of me. Either we had hit something or a rogue wave had caught us on the starboard side.
I had heard many harrowing stories about rogue waves knocking ships over, but I had never actually experienced one. Until now. Fortunately, or maybe miraculously, the Danielle Marie, was able to right herself after a fifty-degree roll to port.
Dazed and a little disoriented, it took me a few seconds to right myself and crawl to the passageway leading to the cockpit above. I desperately wanted to check on Danielle, my sailing partner and girlfriend. She had been at the wheel when we suffered the knock down. I needed to know that she was okay. That she hadn’t been hurt. I called out to her, but there was no answer.
Propelled by panic, I cleared the passageway in two quick leaps and slid the hatch door open. “Danielle, “ I screamed above the uproar of rushing water. “Are you okay, are you all right?”
There was no answer. And, as I looked at the steering pedestal where she had been standing, there was no sign of her.
Please, God. No! My mind scanned the cockpit. It was still awash with sea water that hadn’t fully drained through the scuppers.
“Where are you!” I screamed. “Danielle, please, where are you?”
I called her name over and over again, not wanting to believe that she couldn’t answer me. In a blind frenzy to find her, I lurched forward to the bow and continued shouting her name. My voice was hoarse. My eyes were filled with tears. My mind raced. I had to find her. She had to be there. Somewhere. I kept screaming and searching, not willing to let go of the thin sliver of hope that I would find her and that everything would be okay.
And then, slowly, one thought at a time, like drops of water seeping on a deck until a puddle is formed, the horror of it began to sink in. I wouldn’t find her because she wasn’t there. Danielle had been swept overboard.
As my horror deepened I ran below and grabbed the binoculars to begin searching the ocean surface for any sign of her. I scanned the ocean back and forth a hundred times, praying and begging God to please help me find her. After several minutes of searching, I spotted a small red object about 100 yards off the port side. I came about quickly and headed straight for it.
The closer I got, I could see that it was Danielle’s souvenir cap from the Newport Sailing Regatta that we had sailed in a few years earlier. She loved that cap and always wore it whenever we sailed. It became one of those protective sea superstitions. Danielle believed it would keep us safe. She was convinced that as long as she wore it, we had nothing to worry about at sea. It would somehow always lead us to a safe harbor.
My heart was racing and my spirit lifted. I knew that God had answered my prayer. Danielle would be okay. I would find her treading water near her cherished cap.
I reached over the side with a gaff and retrieved the red cap. Then I scanned all around the area, close in and as far out as the binoculars allowed. There was no sign of Danielle. My prayer had gone unanswered.
In my anguish I began calling her name in desperate gasps, then fell to my knees on the deck and wept uncontrollably. The love of my life had been taken from me. The red cap I held in my hand was the only remaining connection I had to her, but it was now completely drained of the protective energy she believed it held.
My chest felt empty – as though the very air had been sucked from my lungs and replaced with a grief so overwhelming that it paralyzed me.
I left the deck and went below to radio the Coast Guard for help. As I picked up the handset, I noticed the LED Channel display was not Illuminated. The radio was dead. And, after flipping a switch for lights, it looked like all the power was out. By clearing some of the debris spread about the cabin, I was able to access the hatch to the engine compartment where the battery hookup was. The wiring from the battery had been ripped from the terminals and was just dangling there from the bulkhead. The battery itself was lying upside down in the bilge, its case split open.
​The compartment had about a foot of water in the bilge. The bilge water would not be a problem if it remained at that level. It was not unusual to have water in the aft bilge, but
a foot deep could be serious. A light green, blue and red sheen floated on top of the water. I realized it was a mixture of diesel fuel and oil. It indicated that the fuel tank might have suffered a rupture during the knock down. With the power knocked out, no electronics, and no way to start the engine, the best course of action would be to set sail to the nearest port to get help.
The last time I was able to check our position before the knock down, we were approximately 50 miles south of Astoria and 20 miles due west of Rockaway Beach. Having the main sail up and close-reefed, with any luck and favorable winds, I could make landfall in three to four hours. Over the last two days the barometer had fallen steadily, and the forecast from NOAA predicted a strong storm front coming through. If I wanted to outrun the storm, there was no time to lose. I set a course east for Rockaway Beach.
Night fall was fast approaching. The sky turned a forlorn shade of gray that matched the state of mind I had surrendered to. As the darkness fell, the strengthening winds out of the northwest whipped up the swells. Because of the increasing winds I would need to drop the main sail. Only the forward jib would move the boat and it would not be enough to propel the Danielle Marie ahead of the storm. I began preparing for the tempest about to befall us.
In less than an hour, the teeth of the storm hits. The Danielle Marie will need to fight to stay afloat. Towering seas of 25-foot waves and 50 plus knot winds attack her. She rides each wave, up and then crests down it. With virtually no steerage and even less visibility, she is at the sea’s mercy.
The sea spray mixed with the now heavy rain stings my skin and burns my eyes. From the bottom of these great swells, I can see and understand just how small and insignificant I am. This storm-raged sea is king.
The Danielle Marie continues to courageously sail up the face of these gray beards to the white spray-filled crest and then crash down the back side, enveloped once again by the fury of an unrelenting sea. Her hull is taking a pounding. Even with my foul weather gear and safety harness attached, I am terrified. I can’t leave the cockpit to check any damages below deck or to check on the rest of the boat. Fear holds me in its tight grip, a vice that won’t let me move.
The ocean mercilessly pounds away, testing the limits of both man and vessel for hours. My body is soaked to the bone – cold, well past shivering – and my muscles ache with pain and cramps. I am frozen at the wheel, still tense with fear and too scared to move. I begin to lose feeling in my fingers, and my hands are rubbed raw from the pressure of gripping the wheel so tightly. Breathing is labored when cresting these titans because there is so much sea spray and rain infused in the air.
I turn my head aft tucking it down toward my shoulder which helps protect my face and allows me to breathe. There is no telling how far off an Easterly course the storm has driven us. All I am able to do is to hold on and try to endure this howling sea knowing that at any moment one of these monsters can sink us.
Danielle’s red cap has lost its power. There is no safe harbor, no place to anchor, no protective cove offering shelter from nature’s unrelenting onslaught. Only the sea and the wind. Ever stronger and ferocious, like a maniac out to kill. Increasingly, I begin to think that my days and those of the Danielle Marie are numbered. But, at least we will go down together.
The storm has us firmly in its grip. Never have I gone through weather and
seas this rough. Most of my sailing up to this point had been closer to port and usually in
fair weather. The wind shrieks through the rigging and is building, whipping up white
foam all around. The jib is in shreds. Fastened by one remaining line it waves wildly, like a slashed battle flag. From below, as we pitch from side to side, I can hear pots and pans hurling about the galley first in one direction and then in the opposite one.
My thoughts turn to rescue, but with the radio out, no May Day can be sent and, in
these conditions, who would respond anyway? Tears flood down my cheeks and mix with torrents of sea spray. Danielle is out there somewhere. There is no chance, no hope. Hers will be a recovery mission rather than a rescue.
There is nothing I can do. And if there had been, I am too scared, panic stricken and paralyzed with grief to do it. My only option is to ride out the storm.
The night is as black as a cave. The only illumination comes from the beam of my
flashlight as it settles on the tempestuous breaking waves. Under these conditions, it looks as if I will be swallowed up as a sacrifice to the depths below. I feel totally hopeless and alone, sorrow floods my very soul, surrounds me like a heavy fog.
On this night, with the deck awash and the scuppers filled with torrents of sea water, life or death will be ordained by the God of the heavens, land and sea. His Will will be done!
Suddenly, with a loud snap, the backstay breaks loose. It flies over my head and ends up clanging against the rail amidships. Nature’s wrath is now unleashing its power as the Danielle Marie shudders under the force and weight of the sea. She is being tossed about like a piece of driftwood. Rigging and cables whip wildly as if electrified. With the backstay and headstay both gone, along with the lines in the sheet stoppers and fairleads totally slack, I think that demasting is imminent. I almost welcome it.
How much more punishment can we endure? I begin to accept the possibility that we are entering our death throws.
Was my life’s journey coming to an end? Lost at Sea stamped on the death certificate in watery ink? And would I join Danielle and all those many others who had gone before me?
The gale continues unabated and the ocean boils up to meet the sky. It is difficult to distinguish where one starts and the other ends. In a strange, unexplainable way, I
sense that the storm is finally exacting payment for the many times I have sailed on this ocean. I was paying my dues.
Exhausted, my body succumbs and is ready to abandon the struggle, but my mind, ever the master of my fate, commands my imagination to deliver me to a safe harbor. It transcends the impending destruction of my physical body and that of the Danielle Marie. I begin to think warm to combat the cold; food and rest to restore energy; and calmness to gain the resolve to make it through.
Trepidation creeps in and I fear this is only wishful thinking, an illusion my mind uses when faced with an impossible situation.
I want to cry out in anger. Question why this is happening? And why to me? My voice is subdued and conveys only praise to the Danielle Marie, Danielle’s namesake. What a great boat you are. Battered and damaged you steadfastly sail on, defying victory to the ravenous beast whose grip holds us so tightly and refuses to let us go. No matter what happens, I could not have asked more of you. I have loved sailing with you and offer my salute, my gratitude, and my thanks to you. My feelings could not be more honest than if extended toward a person.
I’m so depleted that what’s real or imaginary has become clouded and confusing in the squall that envelops us. Is this what happens near the end, the ramblings of thoughts and
hallucinations that wash across the mind as the spirit makes preparation to cross over?
Twenty grueling, fright-filled hours have passed since I last felt the warmth of the sun’s rays on my face. The urge to sleep is overwhelming. I find myself slipping in and out of
consciousness. Both my will and the adrenaline that have driven my body this far are now
spent. The last ounce of courage and fight have been taken from me and devoured by this
ferocious storm. Broken now, I am no longer afraid. Surprisingly, my emotional state
embraces the thought of leaving this hostile place to be reunited with Danielle and to see where our next journey may take us.
Over the course of the storm, without power to the bilge pumps, it’s apparent we have
taken on water. The Danielle Marie is riding lower, is less buoyant, and has a sluggish
response to the swell, evidence that it won’t be long now until we slip below the surface. Soon our names will be added to the list of those who went before us, lost at sea. It is a long and proud list.
I feel fortunate to know where and when my death will happen. Soon I will know the answer to the age-old question of what happens to you and where do you go after you die?
I want to return to the cabin for a last celebratory shot of Captain Morgan to prepare myself for the peaceful glide down to the ocean floor. I refuse to be tethered to the Danielle Marie with a safety cable only to be washed overboard on the way down like a fishing lure at the end of some fisherman’s line.
I’m removing the yellow rain slicker and leaving it on the cockpit seating cushions. Perhaps after this storm, if there is a search, it will be found floating on the surface. Evidence. A marker. A plastic grave stone?
​Entering the cabin below, I see that we have taken on quite a bit of sea water. The cabin’s sole is flooded with several inches. Sloshing through the floating debris to the
galley cabinet, I retrieve the bottle of Captain Morgan and a glass. The cold sea water has
now risen to my knees. I fill my glass and lift it for a final time-honored, customary toast.
“HERE’S TO YA.” I nod to no one in particular. And to everyone.
Ironically, Danielle and I had always joked about the Danielle Marie being my
mistress. Who better to toast than my mistress? She will not only be joining me on this
journey to the depths below, but will be providing the transportation to get us there.
​“Here’s to you, girl.”
I empty the rest of the bottle throughout the cabin. Give Danielle Marie a chance to join me. After gulping down the rum, I grab Danielle’s red cap off the passage stairs, place it on my head, and retreat to my bunk, the place where all this started a life time ago. As I lie there calmly the water begins to lap at the edge of the mattress. I am overcome with excitement and anticipation, not scared at all. It will be only a few more minutes now.
I imagine a rendezvous with Danielle and wonder if we can pick up where we left off in our life. Who else will I meet? Will we be able to recall all the great times we had together? Could we even make love again? My expectation is flowing off the charts. I am
ready to go!
Tonight, lying here at the very end, with the cold Pacific waters filling the cabin
and flooding the decks above, promises have been made that will be left unspoken and
sealed with a silent prayer for their fulfillment. With the ocean water beginning to fill my
lungs, my final words will be, I love you Danielle, I love you Danielle.
Awakening, I have no idea of how much time has elapsed between our sinking and this new dimension I find myself in. There is a radiant amber light that shines through the
starboard ports. It fills the cabin space. The surroundings feel warm, safe and inviting. There
is a heavy aroma of rum permeating the air. I pinch my cheeks and rub my eyes to reassure myself that I am physically here. My eyes are crusty with an abnormal quantity of salt that is typical of first wakening in the morning.
I look around. Everything is familiar. I am still on board the Danielle Marie. Mystifyingly, all is in perfect condition – just as it was before the knock down.
Sliding open the hatch leading to the cockpit, I timidly look out and wonder what or who I might see. Amazingly, there she is – at the wheel still wearing the same clothes she had on yesterday, minus the red cap. I run out on the deck. I can hardly contain myself.
“You’re here, you’re here!” I scream. We hug each other. Say not a word. Our embrace is like nothing I have ever experienced before. It is as if we are in a cocoon, a divine, warm glow that engulfs us and then invites us to break out and embark on a new journey together. If ever I were to experience a supernatural sensation, this would be it.
​Pulling away first, Danielle is puzzled by my comments. “I’ve been here with you the entire time,” she says. “But why are you wearing my hat?”
In my excitement, I hadn’t realized it was still on my head. I hastily remove it and give it back to her. Placing it on her head she says how damp it feels. I am reluctant to tell her how it got wet so I offer no response. The silence that follows is deafening. For some reason our interaction seems awkward almost like meeting someone for the first time.
I so want to share yesterday’s events with her, but for reasons I don’t understand, I cannot. Danielle breaks the silence. “I’ve set an Easterly course for Rockaway beach,” she says. “If the wind holds, we should be there in three or four hours.” She asks me to go below to the galley and brew a fresh pot of coffee.
As I turn forward to go below, she points out that the back-stay adjuster is loose and is banging against the hull. She adds that I should also hang the rain slicker that is lying in the cockpit over a stantion to dry, but coffee must come first, please.
I struggle to make sense of what had just happened, but I can’t get my mind around it. It is like a part of me absolutely knows what happened while another part of me needs a more rational, concrete explanation – an explanation that escapes my mind’s ability to provide.
Does Danielle have any idea of what had happened yesterday? And if she does, why isn’t she talking about it?
​I don’t have the answers. Only more questions. How does one navigate in these unchartered waters of past and present? Was this some kind of cruel dream that is being unleashed on me? I pray for guidance. I desperately need some kind of a sign, an affirmation of what has taken place. Something tangible.
​When I open the cabinet in the galley, right next to the coffee is an empty fifth of
Captain Morgan. This blows my mind! I cannot resist the urge to talk about it with
Danielle. Heading to the cockpit, I stop myself on the top step of the passageway and look out through the partially opened hatch. Staring at her, I see that she is more beautiful now than I had ever seen her. There is an angelic splendor that totally surrounds her. Her long, chestnut hair flows freely beneath her cap. Her light tan skin exudes a warmth that is intoxicating.
​At that moment the color of the sea and sky in the background are out of this world, like nothing I have ever seen before. The following seas are translucent at their peaks with awe-inspiring colors of turquoise, blue-green, and white. The sky is a clear, powdery pale blue filled with huge, cotton-candy clouds of breathtaking beauty – puffs of snow white tinted pink and tangerine from the sun’s rays.
I peer out from the open hatch and gaze upon Danielle. My heart aches, cries out for some kind of confirmation or verification, a sign that yesterday was real, not my imagination running wild.
Just as I am about to leave my perch in the passageway, Danielle looks down from the wheel. Our eyes meet and lock on each other, startling me at first. The dazzling blueness of her eyes entrances me. Her gaze beckons me to run to her. Still holding me with her eyes, Danielle leans forward over the rim of the wheel. There is a soft light surrounding her and, if possible, she is even more beautiful than before. With an alluring smile and a slow, knowing wink she mouths the words, “I Love You Too!”
I have my sign. It is all I need . . .
1

Tempest Tossed and the Red Cap

TEMPTEST TOSSED AND THE RED CAP
The day was perfect for sailing. Sunny, warm but not hot, gentle breezes and fleeting clouds.
Just south of Astoria, well outside the shipping lanes, we were cruising at about three knots when I was violently thrown from my bunk and slammed to the deck in a heap. It was as if an explosion had gone off in the cabin. Everything that was not bolted down was scattered about – most of it on top of me. Either we had hit something or a rogue wave had caught us on the starboard side.
I had heard many harrowing stories about rogue waves knocking ships over, but I had never actually experienced one. Until now. Fortunately, or maybe miraculously, the Danielle Marie, was able to right herself after a fifty-degree roll to port.
Dazed and a little disoriented, it took me a few seconds to right myself and crawl to the passageway leading to the cockpit above. I desperately wanted to check on Danielle, my sailing partner and girlfriend. She had been at the wheel when we suffered the knock down. I needed to know that she was okay. That she hadn’t been hurt. I called out to her, but there was no answer.
Propelled by panic, I cleared the passageway in two quick leaps and slid the hatch door open. “Danielle, “ I screamed above the uproar of rushing water. “Are you okay, are you all right?”
There was no answer. And, as I looked at the steering pedestal where she had been standing, there was no sign of her.
Please, God. No! My mind scanned the cockpit. It was still awash with sea water that hadn’t fully drained through the scuppers.
“Where are you!” I screamed. “Danielle, please, where are you?”
I called her name over and over again, not wanting to believe that she couldn’t answer me. In a blind frenzy to find her, I lurched forward to the bow and continued shouting her name. My voice was hoarse. My eyes were filled with tears. My mind raced. I had to find her. She had to be there. Somewhere. I kept screaming and searching, not willing to let go of the thin sliver of hope that I would find her and that everything would be okay.
And then, slowly, one thought at a time, like drops of water seeping on a deck until a puddle is formed, the horror of it began to sink in. I wouldn’t find her because she wasn’t there. Danielle had been swept overboard.
As my horror deepened I ran below and grabbed the binoculars to begin searching the ocean surface for any sign of her. I scanned the ocean back and forth a hundred times, praying and begging God to please help me find her. After several minutes of searching, I spotted a small red object about 100 yards off the port side. I came about quickly and headed straight for it.
The closer I got, I could see that it was Danielle’s souvenir cap from the Newport Sailing Regatta that we had sailed in a few years earlier. She loved that cap and always wore it whenever we sailed. It became one of those protective sea superstitions. Danielle believed it would keep us safe. She was convinced that as long as she wore it, we had nothing to worry about at sea. It would somehow always lead us to a safe harbor.
My heart was racing and my spirit lifted. I knew that God had answered my prayer. Danielle would be okay. I would find her treading water near her cherished cap.
I reached over the side with a gaff and retrieved the red cap. Then I scanned all around the area, close in and as far out as the binoculars allowed. There was no sign of Danielle. My prayer had gone unanswered.
In my anguish I began calling her name in desperate gasps, then fell to my knees on the deck and wept uncontrollably. The love of my life had been taken from me. The red cap I held in my hand was the only remaining connection I had to her, but it was now completely drained of the protective energy she believed it held.
My chest felt empty – as though the very air had been sucked from my lungs and replaced with a grief so overwhelming that it paralyzed me.
I left the deck and went below to radio the Coast Guard for help. As I picked up the handset, I noticed the LED Channel display was not Illuminated. The radio was dead. And, after flipping a switch for lights, it looked like all the power was out. By clearing some of the debris spread about the cabin, I was able to access the hatch to the engine compartment where the battery hookup was. The wiring from the battery had been ripped from the terminals and was just dangling there from the bulkhead. The battery itself was lying upside down in the bilge, its case split open.
​The compartment had about a foot of water in the bilge. The bilge water would not be a problem if it remained at that level. It was not unusual to have water in the aft bilge, but
a foot deep could be serious. A light green, blue and red sheen floated on top of the water. I realized it was a mixture of diesel fuel and oil. It indicated that the fuel tank might have suffered a rupture during the knock down. With the power knocked out, no electronics, and no way to start the engine, the best course of action would be to set sail to the nearest port to get help.
The last time I was able to check our position before the knock down, we were approximately 50 miles south of Astoria and 20 miles due west of Rockaway Beach. Having the main sail up and close-reefed, with any luck and favorable winds, I could make landfall in three to four hours. Over the last two days the barometer had fallen steadily, and the forecast from NOAA predicted a strong storm front coming through. If I wanted to outrun the storm, there was no time to lose. I set a course east for Rockaway Beach.
Night fall was fast approaching. The sky turned a forlorn shade of gray that matched the state of mind I had surrendered to. As the darkness fell, the strengthening winds out of the northwest whipped up the swells. Because of the increasing winds I would need to drop the main sail. Only the forward jib would move the boat and it would not be enough to propel the Danielle Marie ahead of the storm. I began preparing for the tempest about to befall us.
In less than an hour, the teeth of the storm hits. The Danielle Marie will need to fight to stay afloat. Towering seas of 25-foot waves and 50 plus knot winds attack her. She rides each wave, up and then crests down it. With virtually no steerage and even less visibility, she is at the sea’s mercy.
The sea spray mixed with the now heavy rain stings my skin and burns my eyes. From the bottom of these great swells, I can see and understand just how small and insignificant I am. This storm-raged sea is king.
The Danielle Marie continues to courageously sail up the face of these gray beards to the white spray-filled crest and then crash down the back side, enveloped once again by the fury of an unrelenting sea. Her hull is taking a pounding. Even with my foul weather gear and safety harness attached, I am terrified. I can’t leave the cockpit to check any damages below deck or to check on the rest of the boat. Fear holds me in its tight grip, a vice that won’t let me move.
The ocean mercilessly pounds away, testing the limits of both man and vessel for hours. My body is soaked to the bone – cold, well past shivering – and my muscles ache with pain and cramps. I am frozen at the wheel, still tense with fear and too scared to move. I begin to lose feeling in my fingers, and my hands are rubbed raw from the pressure of gripping the wheel so tightly. Breathing is labored when cresting these titans because there is so much sea spray and rain infused in the air.
I turn my head aft tucking it down toward my shoulder which helps protect my face and allows me to breathe. There is no telling how far off an Easterly course the storm has driven us. All I am able to do is to hold on and try to endure this howling sea knowing that at any moment one of these monsters can sink us.
Danielle’s red cap has lost its power. There is no safe harbor, no place to anchor, no protective cove offering shelter from nature’s unrelenting onslaught. Only the sea and the wind. Ever stronger and ferocious, like a maniac out to kill. Increasingly, I begin to think that my days and those of the Danielle Marie are numbered. But, at least we will go down together.
The storm has us firmly in its grip. Never have I gone through weather and
seas this rough. Most of my sailing up to this point had been closer to port and usually in
fair weather. The wind shrieks through the rigging and is building, whipping up white
foam all around. The jib is in shreds. Fastened by one remaining line it waves wildly, like a slashed battle flag. From below, as we pitch from side to side, I can hear pots and pans hurling about the galley first in one direction and then in the opposite one.
My thoughts turn to rescue, but with the radio out, no May Day can be sent and, in
these conditions, who would respond anyway? Tears flood down my cheeks and mix with torrents of sea spray. Danielle is out there somewhere. There is no chance, no hope. Hers will be a recovery mission rather than a rescue.
There is nothing I can do. And if there had been, I am too scared, panic stricken and paralyzed with grief to do it. My only option is to ride out the storm.
The night is as black as a cave. The only illumination comes from the beam of my
flashlight as it settles on the tempestuous breaking waves. Under these conditions, it looks as if I will be swallowed up as a sacrifice to the depths below. I feel totally hopeless and alone, sorrow floods my very soul, surrounds me like a heavy fog.
On this night, with the deck awash and the scuppers filled with torrents of sea water, life or death will be ordained by the God of the heavens, land and sea. His Will will be done!
Suddenly, with a loud snap, the backstay breaks loose. It flies over my head and ends up clanging against the rail amidships. Nature’s wrath is now unleashing its power as the Danielle Marie shudders under the force and weight of the sea. She is being tossed about like a piece of driftwood. Rigging and cables whip wildly as if electrified. With the backstay and headstay both gone, along with the lines in the sheet stoppers and fairleads totally slack, I think that demasting is imminent. I almost welcome it.
How much more punishment can we endure? I begin to accept the possibility that we are entering our death throws.
Was my life’s journey coming to an end? Lost at Sea stamped on the death certificate in watery ink? And would I join Danielle and all those many others who had gone before me?
The gale continues unabated and the ocean boils up to meet the sky. It is difficult to distinguish where one starts and the other ends. In a strange, unexplainable way, I
sense that the storm is finally exacting payment for the many times I have sailed on this ocean. I was paying my dues.
Exhausted, my body succumbs and is ready to abandon the struggle, but my mind, ever the master of my fate, commands my imagination to deliver me to a safe harbor. It transcends the impending destruction of my physical body and that of the Danielle Marie. I begin to think warm to combat the cold; food and rest to restore energy; and calmness to gain the resolve to make it through.
Trepidation creeps in and I fear this is only wishful thinking, an illusion my mind uses when faced with an impossible situation.
I want to cry out in anger. Question why this is happening? And why to me? My voice is subdued and conveys only praise to the Danielle Marie, Danielle’s namesake. What a great boat you are. Battered and damaged you steadfastly sail on, defying victory to the ravenous beast whose grip holds us so tightly and refuses to let us go. No matter what happens, I could not have asked more of you. I have loved sailing with you and offer my salute, my gratitude, and my thanks to you. My feelings could not be more honest than if extended toward a person.
I’m so depleted that what’s real or imaginary has become clouded and confusing in the squall that envelops us. Is this what happens near the end, the ramblings of thoughts and
hallucinations that wash across the mind as the spirit makes preparation to cross over?
Twenty grueling, fright-filled hours have passed since I last felt the warmth of the sun’s rays on my face. The urge to sleep is overwhelming. I find myself slipping in and out of
consciousness. Both my will and the adrenaline that have driven my body this far are now
spent. The last ounce of courage and fight have been taken from me and devoured by this
ferocious storm. Broken now, I am no longer afraid. Surprisingly, my emotional state
embraces the thought of leaving this hostile place to be reunited with Danielle and to see where our next journey may take us.
Over the course of the storm, without power to the bilge pumps, it’s apparent we have
taken on water. The Danielle Marie is riding lower, is less buoyant, and has a sluggish
response to the swell, evidence that it won’t be long now until we slip below the surface. Soon our names will be added to the list of those who went before us, lost at sea. It is a long and proud list.
I feel fortunate to know where and when my death will happen. Soon I will know the answer to the age-old question of what happens to you and where do you go after you die?
I want to return to the cabin for a last celebratory shot of Captain Morgan to prepare myself for the peaceful glide down to the ocean floor. I refuse to be tethered to the Danielle Marie with a safety cable only to be washed overboard on the way down like a fishing lure at the end of some fisherman’s line.
I’m removing the yellow rain slicker and leaving it on the cockpit seating cushions. Perhaps after this storm, if there is a search, it will be found floating on the surface. Evidence. A marker. A plastic grave stone?
​Entering the cabin below, I see that we have taken on quite a bit of sea water. The cabin’s sole is flooded with several inches. Sloshing through the floating debris to the
galley cabinet, I retrieve the bottle of Captain Morgan and a glass. The cold sea water has
now risen to my knees. I fill my glass and lift it for a final time-honored, customary toast.
“HERE’S TO YA.” I nod to no one in particular. And to everyone.
Ironically, Danielle and I had always joked about the Danielle Marie being my
mistress. Who better to toast than my mistress? She will not only be joining me on this
journey to the depths below, but will be providing the transportation to get us there.
​“Here’s to you, girl.”
I empty the rest of the bottle throughout the cabin. Give Danielle Marie a chance to join me. After gulping down the rum, I grab Danielle’s red cap off the passage stairs, place it on my head, and retreat to my bunk, the place where all this started a life time ago. As I lie there calmly the water begins to lap at the edge of the mattress. I am overcome with excitement and anticipation, not scared at all. It will be only a few more minutes now.
I imagine a rendezvous with Danielle and wonder if we can pick up where we left off in our life. Who else will I meet? Will we be able to recall all the great times we had together? Could we even make love again? My expectation is flowing off the charts. I am
ready to go!
Tonight, lying here at the very end, with the cold Pacific waters filling the cabin
and flooding the decks above, promises have been made that will be left unspoken and
sealed with a silent prayer for their fulfillment. With the ocean water beginning to fill my
lungs, my final words will be, I love you Danielle, I love you Danielle.
Awakening, I have no idea of how much time has elapsed between our sinking and this new dimension I find myself in. There is a radiant amber light that shines through the
starboard ports. It fills the cabin space. The surroundings feel warm, safe and inviting. There
is a heavy aroma of rum permeating the air. I pinch my cheeks and rub my eyes to reassure myself that I am physically here. My eyes are crusty with an abnormal quantity of salt that is typical of first wakening in the morning.
I look around. Everything is familiar. I am still on board the Danielle Marie. Mystifyingly, all is in perfect condition – just as it was before the knock down.
Sliding open the hatch leading to the cockpit, I timidly look out and wonder what or who I might see. Amazingly, there she is – at the wheel still wearing the same clothes she had on yesterday, minus the red cap. I run out on the deck. I can hardly contain myself.
“You’re here, you’re here!” I scream. We hug each other. Say not a word. Our embrace is like nothing I have ever experienced before. It is as if we are in a cocoon, a divine, warm glow that engulfs us and then invites us to break out and embark on a new journey together. If ever I were to experience a supernatural sensation, this would be it.
​Pulling away first, Danielle is puzzled by my comments. “I’ve been here with you the entire time,” she says. “But why are you wearing my hat?”
In my excitement, I hadn’t realized it was still on my head. I hastily remove it and give it back to her. Placing it on her head she says how damp it feels. I am reluctant to tell her how it got wet so I offer no response. The silence that follows is deafening. For some reason our interaction seems awkward almost like meeting someone for the first time.
I so want to share yesterday’s events with her, but for reasons I don’t understand, I cannot. Danielle breaks the silence. “I’ve set an Easterly course for Rockaway beach,” she says. “If the wind holds, we should be there in three or four hours.” She asks me to go below to the galley and brew a fresh pot of coffee.
As I turn forward to go below, she points out that the back-stay adjuster is loose and is banging against the hull. She adds that I should also hang the rain slicker that is lying in the cockpit over a stantion to dry, but coffee must come first, please.
I struggle to make sense of what had just happened, but I can’t get my mind around it. It is like a part of me absolutely knows what happened while another part of me needs a more rational, concrete explanation – an explanation that escapes my mind’s ability to provide.
Does Danielle have any idea of what had happened yesterday? And if she does, why isn’t she talking about it?
​I don’t have the answers. Only more questions. How does one navigate in these unchartered waters of past and present? Was this some kind of cruel dream that is being unleashed on me? I pray for guidance. I desperately need some kind of a sign, an affirmation of what has taken place. Something tangible.
​When I open the cabinet in the galley, right next to the coffee is an empty fifth of
Captain Morgan. This blows my mind! I cannot resist the urge to talk about it with
Danielle. Heading to the cockpit, I stop myself on the top step of the passageway and look out through the partially opened hatch. Staring at her, I see that she is more beautiful now than I had ever seen her. There is an angelic splendor that totally surrounds her. Her long, chestnut hair flows freely beneath her cap. Her light tan skin exudes a warmth that is intoxicating.
​At that moment the color of the sea and sky in the background are out of this world, like nothing I have ever seen before. The following seas are translucent at their peaks with awe-inspiring colors of turquoise, blue-green, and white. The sky is a clear, powdery pale blue filled with huge, cotton-candy clouds of breathtaking beauty – puffs of snow white tinted pink and tangerine from the sun’s rays.
I peer out from the open hatch and gaze upon Danielle. My heart aches, cries out for some kind of confirmation or verification, a sign that yesterday was real, not my imagination running wild.
Just as I am about to leave my perch in the passageway, Danielle looks down from the wheel. Our eyes meet and lock on each other, startling me at first. The dazzling blueness of her eyes entrances me. Her gaze beckons me to run to her. Still holding me with her eyes, Danielle leans forward over the rim of the wheel. There is a soft light surrounding her and, if possible, she is even more beautiful than before. With an alluring smile and a slow, knowing wink she mouths the words, “I Love You Too!”
I have my sign. It is all I need . . .
1

THE MOST UNUSUAL WEDDING ONBOARD THE PAPAGALLO

Weddings onboard the Papagallo are just one of the many venues we offer.  Typically, the niche market we serve are weddings for up to 50 people, many of which are second or third marriages. 

The ceremony is performed underway off Target Rock with Morro Rock in the background.  The captain positions the yacht in the lee of Morro Rock which acts as a windbreak.  This makes it a more pleasant experience for the wedding party and guests.

Prior to the cruise, the bride and her attendants gather in the master stateroom below decks where they usually enjoy a bottle of champagne while getting ready for the ceremony. When all the guests have arrived and boarded, the captain gives the order to cast off lines and we get underway. 

Everyone gathers on the foredeck where the ceremony will be performed. With the boat in position, the groom and officiate take their places on either side of the windless.  Because of the limited space, it is standing room only on the port and starboard rail.  The bride’s attendants are the last to join the guests.  With everyone in place and the music ready to play, all await the bride’s glorious entrance.  Because of the narrow decks, whoever she has selected to walk her down the aisle, must enter the side deck first with the bride to follow.

Let the ceremony begin!

When the officiate introduces the bride and groom as “Mr. & Mrs.,” champagne is passed for a toast and hors d’oeuvres are served.  The captain resumes cruising and the party begins.  There is music, photo taking, buffet food, the traditional first slice of cake shared between the bride and groom, and the first dance.  All good stuff as in a traditional wedding celebration but much more intimate, and memorable. 

We have hosted scores of weddings onboard, some more lively and fun than others.

Over the years we have seen flower girls and little children acting as ring bearers, even the bride and groom’s dog standing with them.  We’ve conducted champagne saber services, featured violin solos and highlighted the pageantry of military uniforms.  You name it and we have probably experienced it onboard.

The most unusual ceremony happened on a sunny Saturday afternoon in early Spring.  The weather could not have been more perfect.  The bride’s gown was beautiful.  The air was filled with excitement and great anticipation.  All was in place for a spectacular ceremony.  The food selections for the buffet happened to be some of my favorite recipes, and I was excited that the guests would get to experience them. 

With the yacht in position and all gathered on the foredeck, it was time for the bride to make her entrance.  Everyone was waiting expectantly.  There was just one slight problem . . . she refused to come up from the master stateroom. 

I sent a female crew member down to get her.  The crew member returned and reported that the bride demanded that the officiate and groom join her below decks.  She wanted the ceremony conducted in the stateroom with no guests present.  

WOW! I felt bad for the groom.  The clock kept ticking away.  Still no bride.  Another fifteen minutes crawled by.  Everyone wanted to know what was happening, but no one wanted to ask.    

Finally, after shuffling about making small talk to kill time and avoid asking what was going on, the bride’s father joined her below.  I wasn’t there and didn’t hear what he said, but I wish I had.  What seemed like another fifteen minutes passed.  Still no bride.  What am I going to do with all this food I wondered.  And what about the guests?

Resisting the urge to join the bride and her father in the stateroom, I smiled at the guests and pretended that all was well.  A slight delay.  Normal.

Finally, the bride’s father met with a degree of success.  He convinced her to join her guests so that the ceremony could begin. She in turn made it clear to him that ALL she wanted or would to say was, “I do.” 

The “I dos” were said! 

After the champagne toast, she retreated to the port side of the aft deck and took out a pack of cigarettes.  She lit first one and then another and another, breathing heavily and puffing smoke furiously, as if her life depended on it, for the remainder of the cruise.  I don’t think she talked to another person the whole time.

Because she did not want to eat or dance, we dispensed with a good part of our traditional service.  Was it cold feet, buyer’s remorse, second thoughts, who knows?  We were just thrilled when the cruise ended and the Papagallo, witness to yet another of life’s quirky experiences, was docked peacefully in her spot.  My captain and crew didn’t say a word.  We looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders,  and went home.

To this day I have no idea how that union is doing and I can’t help but wonder if they are still together!

 

 

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CHANGING OUT THE GALLEY ON THE PAPAGALLO

When I purchased the Papagallo, the layout and appliances in the galley were a very important factor in making the decision to buy.   Having spent four years and a lot of travel miles in my search, I knew what I was looking for.  Most of the vessels I considered were well equipped for cruising, but their galleys were another story.  They were only set up to do limited food preparation onboard. 

My business plan included doing parties for up to 50 guests.  In order for me to prepare the menus we would be serving, the small galley space had to be as functional as possible. 

For several years of operation, we managed to get by with an electric four burner stove top and a three-rack oven underneath.  This was a twenty year-old GE model with a microwave mounted above.  Our refrigerator was a two-door, side-by-side Amana refrigerator freezer combo.  To cover our dishwashing needs, there was a Kitchen Aide Dishwasher. 

Although this equipment was not designed for commercial use, I was able to adapt my methods and make it work.  As the years passed, because of the volume of cooking I was doing, it was quite apparent these appliances were worn out.  There was no longer a work around solution.  They needed to be replaced.    

To refit any kitchen is a challenge.  But if it’s a galley on a yacht, double or triple the complications you’ll face.  We’re talking major undertaking here.  One of the many problems you’re immediately faced with is how to get the old equipment out.  After you figure this out then you’ve got to find a way to get the new equipment in.  And remember, nothing is ever as easy as it looks.

With our limited space (66 sq. ft.), the size and style of the new appliances would be critical.  In this application using commercial equipment is not an option.  After working with my local Whirlpool representative, we selected a Jenn-Air package.  Although not commercial, it was far better than what I had been working with and would be a great improvement for the galley space. 

The new equipment was delivered to our dock area and we set a day for the change out.  We moved the Papagallo to the South T Pier to take advantage of the public crane there.  Due to scheduling conflicts, we would have one full day to get the job done.  First, the old appliances would be lifted out from the starboard side aft window.  The measurements were so close and the space so tight that we had to remove the doors from the old refrigerator and then disassemble the oven unit in order to get them out.  We had probably less than a half inch clearance, much less than I was comfortable with, but after a lot of grunting and groaning, the old appliances were on their way out.

Our original plan to bring the new appliances onboard was to cut an opening in the boat deck above the galley and lower them through.  This seemed like the only way we could access the galley space since the passageway aft that led to the galley was only twenty-five inches wide – too narrow to bring the new fridge through.

I was never happy with the prospect of cutting through the deck, not just because of the expense involved in repairing it, but because of the Papagallo’s integrity.  To me it’s like I would be damaging a beautifully designed piece of aged wood that was part of the yacht’s pedigree and shouldn’t be disturbed.   So, when the carpenter said, saw in hand, “I want to take one more measurement before cutting,” I told him to go for it, hoping somehow that we wouldn’t have to make that cut in the deck.

Well, if you’ve ever heard that old saying “Measure twice, cut once,” I can tell you that it’s absolutely true.  Man, was I glad he did that!

My carpenter re-measured carefully.  When he returned he must have read my mind because there was a knowing smile on his face.  “According to the aft window measurement, it’s wide enough – if we remove the doors,” he said.  He also calculated that with the doors and trim removed from the passageways, we would end up with exactly 1/8” clearance.  It wouldn’t be a slam dunk, but we would be able to squeeze the appliances through and into the galley space.

With the aft window open and crew in place, the crane operator swung the fridge over the water and lined it up with the open window.  When the refrigerator was lowered, the plan was for the crew to grab it and guide it through onto the aft deck.  As we proceeded, there was one small problem . . . the straps securing the fridge were just thick enough to keep it from sliding through the window. 

After some heated discussion, the decision was made to have one of the crew lay across the side of the fridge that was already a third of the way through the window.  This would create a counter balance.  With him in place, the straps were removed and two other crew members simultaneously yanked the lumbering refrigerator through the window, preventing it from falling into the bay.  WOW!  Mission accomplished! 

With all the old appliances removed from the boat and the new ones safely onboard, the rest of the day was comparatively easy.  We moved the new ones to the galley, reassembled them, and then hooked them up to power and water.  When we finished the Papagallo’s galley never looked better.  With modern, Jenn-Air appliances, her prep area is now beautifully functional.  Getting this done was a huge effort, but well worth it.  My job is so much easier now that I don’t have to nurse the old equipment along!

Until next week…

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Chef Len

 

  

 

  ROUNDING POINT CONCEPTION ON A BAD DAY

After being on the hard in Ventura for over a month for repairs, we were homesick and more than ready to return to Morro Bay.  At a cost of $50,000, this by far was our most expensive haul out since buying the Papagallo.  With the repairs complete and Coast Guard approval, all we needed was a good weather window to cruise home. 

Weather is always a critical factor on any cruise.  It must be considered, especially when going around Point Conception.  If there is anyone who needs to know what the weather prediction is, it is certainly the mariner.  Out at sea, changes in weather cause differences not just in temperature but in sea conditions, wind strength, direction, and wave swell.  The sailor who does not pay attention to these changes is a gambler whose luck may run out.  Ultimately he could find himself in a dangerous situation.  Or worse, put others in one. 

After checking NOAA for sea conditions, we brought the crew onboard and cast off at 9:00 a.m. on a Tuesday morning.  The captain set a heading northwest placing us four miles off shore in the Santa Barbara channel.  The weather report gave us a fifteen-hour window to get home ahead of a low front that was coming in.  Seas were four to five feet at twelve seconds with winds fifteen to twenty knots out of the northwest.  These conditions would be no problem for the vessel or crew and would allow us to cruise at ten knots and get to Morro Bay safely ahead of the front.

In all there were four souls onboard settled in on the helm.  The first few hours of our journey were fine.  We told the usual sea stories, exaggerated past adventures, and embellished on the truth as we wanted to remember it, all normal activities for us, enhanced by the aroma of fresh brewed coffee and the haze of pipe and cigar smoke. 

After the financial shock of this haul out, I was beginning to relax.  Soon we would be home, ready for business again.   

As we made our way north, the weather and sea conditions began to change.  The wind gusts and wave swells increased.  Occasional swells out of the south began hitting our port beam.  This was not in the forecast.  We still had many protected hours ahead.  What was happening?

The seas were beginning to pound us relentlessly.  Ten knots seemed like twenty to me.  But the captain insisted on holding our speed.  “We have to get ahead of the predicted cold front,” he said.  It was very obvious to me that our fifteen-hour weather window for smooth sailing was about to slam shut.  Some weather man’s miscalculation, I thought.  So much for accuracy. 

Heavy ocean spray began pelting the helm windows.  Green water blasted up through the anchor hawspipe, poured out on the foredeck, and then ran down the scuppers both port and starboard. 

The rougher it got, the more the old salt captain seemed to enjoy the ride.  I, for one, did not share his enthusiasm!  There is no joy in hearing the considerable crashing, banging, and clanging taking place aft and below decks, especially when you can’t see what is actually happening.  I wanted to reduce speed, not only to lessen the pounding we were getting, but also to prevent damage to the vessel.  However, the captain would have no part of that and pressed on.

When we arrived off the point, we experienced confused seas at the height of their confusion – swells cresting in different directions at 11 to 14 feet one after the other at close intervals, wind gusting to 45 knots, and skies darkening all around us.  The bright sunshine we were promised when leaving Ventura had vanished.  Along with it, much of my enthusiasm. 

With no warning, seemingly from out of nowhere, a series of large swells descended on us.  As the Papagallo rose to the top of the first angry wave, the captain shouted out, “Hold on!”  Completely at the wave’s mercy, we plunged down deep into the trough, burying the bow under the green water of the next oncoming wave.  The entire boat shuddered.  Our forward progress halted briefly before we smashed through the next wave. 

“SHIT!!” I barked out.  “Cut the damn speed.”  Even now, it’s hard for me to describe the horrific sound of 78 tons of boat hitting a solid wall of water at 10 knots!  You have to be onboard when it happens to experience the absolute terror of knowing that everything around you is about to break apart. 

Before we had recovered from the previous wave we were hit on the beam by another one.  The impact tossed Jim half way across the salon into the decorative fireplace.  He laid there in a heap, groaning in pain, for a few minutes before we could scoop him up and place him safely on the bench on the helm. We found out later he had suffered three broken ribs because of the fall.  At this point Jeff said that he thought “something might have broken loose on the boat deck above.”  But conditions were so rough that none of us was eager to venture up there to check it out right then.   

Once our speed was reduced, conditions onboard improved to the point where the crew and I could check for damage.  I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to know, but I decided that not knowing was worse. 

 So, I entered the galley.  I discovered that the impact had sprung the refrigerator door along with all the cabinet doors.   Broken glass, food stuffs and cooking pans littered the deck.  The worst of this was my fifteen-year-old Balsamic Vinegar and a half gallon of Virgin Olive Oil oozing onto the deck from their containers.   Add a few heads of Romaine and some parmesan and we could have a salad prepared right there! . . . What a mess! 

Aft of the galley, the furnishings in the salon were tossed in a pile resembling the aftermath of an earthquake. The enclosed aft deck also took a major hit with the aft windows swinging wildly having broken free from their restraint fasteners.  The volume of seawater was so great it overflowed the scuppers and flooded the deck.  There were at least three inches of seawater sloshing about the deck, deep enough for life rings that had dislodged from their racks to be floating. 

We secured the aft windows, about all we could do before heading back to the helm.  Cleaning the galley and salon would have to wait until we got to port. 

A personal note here concerning captains:  The captain is the authority onboard any vessel. He has the rank and experience to give orders.  But first and foremost, his responsibility is to keep the crew, passengers, and vessel safe.  On this day, I believe he acted in a wreckless manner by not reducing speed soon enough in heavy seas.  I was not sure of his motive or what, if anything, he was trying to prove.  I do know that owners think and act differently than hired captains.  Having just spent $50K on repairs, I did not want to expose the boat to unnecessary damage.  When it’s all said and done, he gets to go home and I’m the poor bastard who has to clean up and repair damages. 

Upon inspection at the dock, the crashing sound Jeff had heard topside was that of the dink being ripped from its’ cradle.  Secured to the boat only by its davit cables, it could not withstand the blunt wave force.  It had given way, almost like myself and my crew.  This cruise ended after fifteen crushing hours at sea . . . a trip that normally takes twelve. 

This is a longer than normal post for me, but it’s difficult to round Point Conception in 500 words or less.  As a result of this cruise I was soon back on the job replenishing precious points to King Neptune’s insurance account for the Papagallo!

 

 

POINT CONCEPTION — THE CAPE HORN OF THE PACIFIC

Just north of Santa Barbara, along the California coast, lies Point Conception.  A point of land that juts out where the north end of the Santa Barbara channel meets the open Pacific.  It’s a natural division between southern and central California – as if someone had placed it there for our convenience.  It’s also a place where strong-willed currents strive to dominate one another in a furiously confusing convergence that makes sailing conditions difficult at best for large vessels and almost impossible for small ones, especially if they misjudge it. 

The west coast of California is rich in history, and its lore is full of maritime disasters.  A great many of them can be attributed to conditions encountered near or at Point Conception.  One of the worst documented cases occurred on a Saturday night, September 8, 1923.  It was foggy and difficult to see.  Fourteen ships of Destroyer Squadron 11 were running south from San Francisco to San Diego at 20 knots with just a few minutes sea time between them.  By most accounts, they were too close to each other for weather conditions.      

The lead ship, the destroyer U.S.S. Delphy, mistook the light at Point Arguello to be the light at Point Conception which was twelve miles further to the south.  As a consequence of this navigational error, the Delphy’s captain, thinking he was entering the channel, turned inland much too soon.   The other destroyers followed him.  Rocky outcrops awaited them.  When they realized the error, it was much too late.  Men had been thrown from the decks and tossed into the sea as the ships’ hulls tore open.  Twenty-two lost their lives.

Seven destroyers ran aground on the jagged rock outcroppings close to shore and were lost.  Two ships were damaged.  Only five were able to avoid the rocks. It was the largest peacetime loss of U.S. Navy ships in our history.

Over the last twelve years, I have sailed by the point on ten different occasions while delivering the Papagallo for haul out in Ventura.  On my first crossing, we entered a protective cove just south of the point called Co-Ho.  I was preparing dinner for the crew.  The ocean was like glass.  There was no hint of any previous disasters.  Eerily, it was almost too calm. After a satisfying meal we capped the evening by sipping whiskey, swapping stories and smoking cigars.  A fine night.  Mellow.  Given to introspection and speculation. 

So I waited for a lull in the conversation before I asked the captain about all the yarns I had heard over the years regarding horrible sea conditions, shipwrecks and near sinking’s that had taken place in these waters. Taking a deep draw on his pipe, his reply was more of a warning than an explanation.  As he removed the pipe and looked me squarely in the eye, his gaze never wavering, he said, “Count your blessings, Mate, as your insurance account with King Neptune is paid up and you best keep it that way.”

I later learned that a healthy respect for sea superstitions is valuable.  It helps keep your vessel ship shape because you tend never to shortcut a repair or ignore necessary maintenance to keep it that way.  And by taking these actions, you add precious currency to your King Neptune account.  This allows you to experience smooth sailing and it protects you and your vessel from confused seas and angry squalls no matter where you sail, but especially rounding Point Conception.  It is considered to be a sacred site (the Western Gate) by Chumash Indians, a place where the souls of their departed begin their celestial journey onward to paradise.  You don’t want to join them before you’re ready. 

But please be sure to join me on next week’s blog where, on our seventh trip (not a lucky seven for us) heading north to Morro Bay, we emptied out King Neptune’s insurance account sailing through eleven-foot seas in gale force winds.  You don’t want to miss this one – SCARRY STUFF!

Chef Len

WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO

It’s 7:00 a.m. The sun is already up.  I am onboard the Papagallo – easing into my day, having my first cup of coffee and smoking my first cigarillo.  It’s very different than all the years I’ve spent in restaurant kitchens.  Standing quietly on the foredeck and gazing out over the sea, I think how lucky I am.

I witness the harbor awaken.  Another new day.  The same as any other, but very different.  The Sea Otters are having breakfast, banging clams and crabs against a stone brought up from the bottom and placed on their chests for the task.  Fishing boats pay them no mind as they start their engines and head out in search of the catch of the day, much like they’ve done for hundreds of years.

Scores of pigeons take flight from one roof top to another.  Who knows why?  That’s just what they do.  Curious Harbor Seals cruise by.  They are looking for leftovers, snacks, their next meal.  Across the bay I see a group of healthy Sea Lions jockeying for position on a floating dock.  I can hear them barking to each other.  I wonder what they are saying, how they communicate, who’s in charge.

I hear the cries of seagulls.  As if led by a conductor, they harmonize with the sounds all around them.  Nature’s orchestra is tuning up, getting ready for the day.  Ever watchful, the seagulls glide effortlessly through the air, expert fliers aware of all that is below them.  They are a blessing and a curse I think.

The salt air I breathe is refreshing, invigorating.  It clears my head.  Allows me to think.  Encourages me to dream.  On windy days it fills the sheets of sail boats, gloriously, spreading them wide and full enough so that they whine with pride. 

This is my wonderful office.  It’s like no other, and I never take it for granted.

With my coffee and smoke finished, I leave the deck and begin tidying up the boat.  We have a cruise scheduled for the evening.  I precheck all the systems onboard, then enter the galley to begin my cooking day.  All our parties have preset menus chosen by the party host.  Because our menus for each cruise change, my food prep is always interesting, never boring.  And unlike service in a restaurant setting, we know the number of guests and their menu selections well ahead.  There is no guessing. 

Most of our cruises begin with hors d’oeuvres that are served with cocktails or beverages chosen by the host.  These are followed with a five-course offering either buffet style or full service.

After the cruise, when the last bite of dessert has been eaten and our guests are departing, I receive yet another reward – smiles and comments on what a wonderful experience they’ve had.  “This was a magical evening,” the comment we hear most frequently, is music to my ears.  For a chef, those words are as important as receiving payment for the function.  In my fifty plus years in the food business, accolades from satisfied guests never get old.  They are a huge part of why we do what we do.  Keep ‘em coming and I will keep cookin’.  It’s my passion and pleasure to serve every guest onboard the Papagallo. 

After all, our professional team is in the business of making magical evenings happen!  

Chef Len

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