Double-O has the Right of Way

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Katie 001a


I was born the daughter of two racing sailors in San Diego, California. My earliest and fondest memories are of spray in the face as Dad heeled over his little boat on our many sails down to Mexico. I lived on a friend’s race boat while I went to college in Santa Barbara, where I majored in English Lit and Creative Writing. I was going to be a poet, so I supported myself by teaching sailing, because poets don’t make any money. I became a captain at twenty-one, got pregnant by a guy who enforced the law, but couldn’t understand the concept of reefing, when I was twenty-two, wound up with a job raising three kids, a precocious boy and twin girls, and didn’t get back on the water for good till after the turn of the millennium.

Double-O, that’s my husband, is new to this cruising business. His parents, bless their hearts, Christened him Oswald Osborne. He has no middle name. I suppose, because they do things differently in the little town of Krum, Texas, just a bit north of Dallas. On November 22, 1963, Double-O decided he didn’t like his first name. He shortened it to Ozzie for awhile, but he grew up watching David and Ricky’s parents on television and thought their dad was kind of square, so he polled his friends and they came up with Double-O. He didn’t like that either and asked them to call him Buckshot, then Buck, but Double-O stuck. Friends call him Dub now. Anyway, I learned back before I ever let him get fresh with me that he wasn’t going to take easily to sailing. He was twelve years older than me, drove a go slow Ford at home, a police car at work and voted for Richard Nixon, but he had hands to die for and that made up for a lot.

I made him promise, before we got married, that after the baby was grown and on her own, that we’d go cruising. The baby was a boy and not the girl I wanted, so we had the twins two years later. Now it’s a quarter of a century on, I’m a forty-six year old grandmother and we live on the water. Double-O kept his word, belatedly, true, but at last I’m cruising.

We’d charted a couple times, once in the Bahamas and once in the BVI before we bought Tara, a Tyana 37. Double-O did fine on both sailing vacations, professed to love it, could hardly wait till we got our own boat. Then we did. We bought her in St. Pete and Double-O hired a skipper to deliver her to St. Martin. I wanted to sail her down, but he said that he wanted to get his feet wet on short little hops first.

What could I say? We were going cruising. I’d start in St. Martin. It was as good a place as any. We spent two weeks in the lagoon, provisioning and just getting used to not having to get up to an alarm clock every morning. We rented a car for the time we were there, something our cruising budget didn’t allow for, but what the heck, it was our first two weeks. We dined on the French Side often, further stretching our budget, in this nice little town called Grand Case, which has to be the culinary capitol of the Caribbean, bought cheap rum in Philipsburg on the Dutch Side and I swam topless for the first time in my life at Orient Beach.

I could have stayed in St. Martin for the whole season, but Double-O was getting yacht envy among all these multi-million dollar mega yachts, so I thought it best to get him out of there and what better place to get him started in this new lifestyle, than somewhere he was familiar with. I suggested that we take Tara up to the BVI and I swear we must have had the gentlest crossing on record. Double-O loved it, steered the whole way, all through the dark night, even though we have a perfectly good auto-pilot.

Double-O fancies himself as the captain of this ship, though I’m the one with the experience, the ticket and the common sense. I’m the one who goes up the mast, under the boat, changes the oil and cooks the meals. But Double-O drives the boat and that’s good enough for him. Me too, because I’m finally where I wanna be.

He thinks boat driving is easy, once you know how, not much more difficult than driving a car. And like on the streets of Santa Barbara, there are rules of the road on the water. These Double-O has learned. He knows who has the right of way and who doesn’t. He’s not a bully, but he’s not the kind to yield when he’s in the right either.

We were less than a mile off Virgin Gorda. The seas were calm, wind aft of the beam at about ten knots. The sun was coming up orange with a bright pink sky surrounding her old self. Cirrus clouds were way high up there and the tops were being sheared off billowy, fat  cumulus clouds below. It looked like we might be in for a blow later, but for now, it was gorgeous, maybe a little roly, but not so that you’d notice.

“Dub that boat looks like it’s on a collision course.” I picked up the binoculars. The boat was painted a dull red, looked clunky and rust covered. She was flying a new German flag.

“We’re under sail and he’s motoring, we have the right of way.” Dub was standing behind the wheel, chin out, shoulders back, fresh as if he’d spent the night in bed. Maybe I’d been wrong about him all these years, because it looked like he was adapting to this lifestyle like a baby quacker takes to water.

The wind started to pick up a little, to about fifteen or so and I began to think that blow might come sooner than I’d thought as I looked at the ripples on the water ahead, but I wasn’t worried, we’d have the hook down well in advance of any big wind that might come through. Myself, I would have relished a breezy sail, but for Double-O’s first crossing, calm was good.

“Dub, I don’t think he’s gonna turn!”

“He’ll turn.” Double-O spent four years as an officer in the Marine Corps, then thirty-two as a police officer. He’s used to being in charge and heÕs as patriotic as they come, so there was no way in heck he was going to yield to a foreign flagged vessel, not when he had the right of way, wasn’t gonna happen.

“Come on, Dub, he’s headed straight for us!” I picked up the binoculars again, didn’t see anybody at the helm. “They’re below, running on auto-pilot.”

Double-O started the engine.

“What are you doing?”

“Wanna get in before the rain.” He knew how to read the sky, too. Till right then, I didn’t know he could do that. He must have learned how when he was in Viet Nam, because it was a skill he’d never demonstrated in all the years I’d known him.

“We should turn, maybe just a little.”

“We’re in a hurry now.”

“It’s not a contest!” I put the binoculars away, the rusty red boat was way to close for them now.

“It is.” Double-O added power.

“We’re not under sail any more. We’re motoring!”

“He doesn’t know that.”

“He’s not on deck!”

“Probably sees us on radar. He’s daring me.”

The red boat was only a couple boat lengths away now. We were going to crash.

“Dub!” I screamed. “Turn for God’s sake!”

“No.” He was calm, at ease, ice water in his veins.

The red boat was only meters away, any second and my dream was going to explode in a crash of teak and fiberglass.

“Dub!”

He turned, just a bit and we missed that German boat by less than a meter. When they passed we got an eyeful. The skipper and first mate were in the cockpit all right, but they were sans clothes, going at each other in the kind of sexual frenzy reserved only for the very young.

“Ride ‘em, Cowboy!” Double-O shouted.

They jumped up, wide eyed and laughing.

“How come you didn’t yield?” I said, laughing too. I couldn’t help it.

“Aw, I was just having a little fun. I never would’ve hit ‘em.”

“Next time you turn when I tell you, Stupid.” I swatted him on the shoulder.

“Yes, Captain.” Double-O smiled at me, laughed. It was the first time he’d ever called me that. Then he shut off the engine, stood on his toes, put his hand to his forehead to shield his eyes from the rising sun and made an exaggerated effort of looking around. “Nobody in front of us.” He clicked on the auto-pilot. “We’ve got all the time in the world.”

“For what?”

“Come on below and find out.”


Vesta  Irene Sailing Out of St. Martin


Here is Vesta, Sailing us out of Marigot Bay on the French Side of St. Martin.


Great White Wonder 701


Great White Wonder, anchored off the coast of the Trinidad and Tobago Yachting Association.


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