In which we meet the crew... Larry reveals some antisocial tendencies... Lea tries to stop studying... Scarlet says goodbye to a co-worker... Piaw discovers the real power of shiny electronics...
Seattle 1998 Aug 01 Saturday
At last, the crew was all gathered in one spot.
All I knew about Lea W. was that she was a medical student, that she had just finished her board exams, and that she was still waiting for the results. I wasn't really looking forward to meeting her. I lived close to UCSF, a medical school. Each day, I rode a bus with UCSF students. They seemed nice enough, but they all studied so hard that they weren't exactly rich in personality or outside interests. It would take me a few hours to get past my preconceptions.
I had met Scarlet Tang a couple of times before. She was a friend of Piaw's, and had gone on some hairy bike tours with him. She was funny and cynical and amusingly judgmental. Here her resemblance to me ended: she was athletic, cussed in a manner that remained somehow genteel, gave of her time to public causes. She worked for a company that did marketing for alternative transportation. Scarlet had had lots of sailing experience, and would do a good job of directing Lea and I when Piaw was distracted with complicated steering.
If you haven't figured out what the skipper, Piaw Na, was like from my (and/or his) previous writings, then I don't know what to say about him now. A shining flower of software geekdom; consumer of fiction; bicyclist extraordinaire; published author of technical articles; avid photographer. I'd never sailed with any other skipper, so I didn't know for sure that Piaw was good. Still, I was pretty sure he was pretty good, and by now we'd sailed together often enough such that we worked pretty well together.
The Reverend Totoro, Piaw's stuffed animal, recently ordained as a Univeral Life Church Minister, did not take an active role during much of the voyage, but spent his days presiding over the boat's main cabin and, in his capacity as a nature god, provided sunny skies for our voyage.
I, Larry Hosken, was self-appointed ship's behemoth and crew historian. I still thought of sailing as pretty silly.
Photo: the crew before the voyage
We all sat down and got to know each other's passport. Lea's passport was fantastic, filled with places she'd been to. A veritable history. Mine was pretty new, and had only a couple of stamps in it from reentering the USA from Canada and France. Scarlet bemoaned her lack of stamps.
We went over to a boating supplies store, and then a party, where we met some of Scarlet's co-workers. One of them was moving to Anchorage pretty soon, and Scarlet was missing her already. But all too soon we had to leave, as we had to get up at 5:30 the next morning to be at Anacortes in time for the briefing.
There was this party. At the same time that Nancy and Cedric were going to a house-warming party, our crew was invited to a house-cooling party. Scarlet's co-worker, Elsa, was moving to Anchorage, AL to be with her husband who was pursuing his lifelong dream of practicing Alaskan fishery law. (I am not making this up.) There would be food, we were all invited. Lea was still packing for the voyage and would catch up; the Reverend Totoro needed to catch up on his sleep; the rest of us would set off for the party, bringing s'mores ingredients as an offering.
We arrived at Elsa's house. A sign directed us to the back, where a couple of warm grills bookended clumps of glum-looking people. I felt kind of stupid, standing there with a smile on my face. All of these people were talking, their faces somewhere between tight frowns and scowls. My facial expression had already branded me as an outsider--they probably had already figured out that I was a Californian. Jeez. I didn't even want to mingle with these party people. I wanted to get to know Scarlet and Lea better, get some idea as to what they'd be like on the boat.
My thoughts wandered. Elsa's sweet patootie was going to Alaska to practice fishery law. Of my university peers who'd gone on to become lawyers, one had gone to Alaska to work out a harassment case; the other worked for a firm with "Fish" in the name. I absently smiled and nodded at whoever was talking to me. I probably shouldn't have smiled, but it's a hard habit to break.
Lea arrived, and members of the crew waved and greeted her: "Hi!". She walked up to us, saying "Hi! Wow!" In a quieter voice she said, "This is not a typical Seattle party. I show up and people actually said "Hi!" I looked around at the dour crowd. I'd once read a guidebook for people who were thinking of moving to Seattle. It warned that Seattlites tended to be cliquish, not quick to let in outsiders. I wondered if this was right, or if Seattlites were just generally socially stunted. I noticed that my thoughts were becoming mean and spiteful. I decided to watch my step.
On one of our times together, I told Lea that I was really surprised that she was coming along on this trip, given that she didn't know the skipper or Larry. She said that I came recommended by Scarlet, and that was good enough for her, and she'd really wanted to do a long sailing trip for a long time and never had the chance till now. I figured Lea was going to be a good crewmember for the same reason.
I loved having Lea on the boat. She did everything. She learnt to navigate, she learnt to sail, she learnt to pilot, raise anchor, row a dinghy, cook under sail. For anyone but a regular over-achiever like her, it would have been an extraordinary amount. Sure, you can get your bareboat charter certificate [the sailing equivalent of a driver's license] in six days, but I wasn't actively trying to instruct her.
Lea had some objectives for this party. Soon she was going to begin rotations at various hospitals. In a few months, she'd be working at a hospital in Anchorage. Not only was Elsa's sweet patootie moving there, but some of his anchorage friends were at the party, including someone who worked at a hospital. Lea had people she wanted to talk to. As I discovered, I had all kinds of people I didn't want to talk to.
I found myself trapped against a table in conversation about Hawaii. It might have been interesting, but I couldn't get over the fact that the two Seattlites I was talking to kept frowning. I tried to ease my way out of the conversation with no success. Finally, I abandoned subtlety, said, "Oh, hey, looks like the corn is done," lurched past Diana towards one of the grills. Elsa's sweet patootie looked up from the grill. "The corn's over on the other grill," he said. Maybe I wasn't very convincing. I had escaped, at least for the moment.
I nibbled corn, wandering the periphery of conversations. There was talk about some recent baseball player trading. I caught myself whimpering. Someone asked me how I knew Elsa. "I'm gatecrashing, really," I said, pausing for a chuckle which was not forthcoming, "I'm a friend of Scarlet's, a co-worker of Elsa's." I backpedaled into a conversation about the relative merits of gas and coal grills. I wasn't going to cry. I stumbled over to Lea, who started to talk at me about how terrible she felt that she didn't know more about computers. I smiled and nodded, and asked if we could talk about something else. Not that I had any ideas of what else to talk about. By this point, I wasn't exactly sure how I could ever have thought of conversation as an enjoyable activity. We watched a young lady mesmerized by Piaw's Palm Pilot. She asked if it was a "chick magnet." She seemed very fascinated, very drunk. I didn't want to have a conversation about Palm Pilots that doesn't involve the Linux port, and this didn't seem like the right crowd for that.
I didn't think there would be any place in Seattle where the Palm III would be a chick magnet, but I guess if you're drunk enough anything's a chick magnet.
We started to amble towards the exit. We went past a conversation about the side effects of some kind of schizophrenia medication. My hackles rose. Lea shuddered and said that she was trying not to think about work, trying not to think about that medication, trying not to think about other medications to use instead, about their side effects. She pointed out that this must be something like my feelings, not wanting to think about computers. I goggled at her. The conversation lapsed. Yup, Lea said, she sure didn't want to think about... I pointed at a plant, "Hey, is that fennel?" I asked. Why yes, Lea said, it was. She had some things to say about fennel. There was no more talk of schizophrenia medication that night.
Back at the house, Lea's sweet patootie Rick stopped by with a cooler, some Sun Showers, and a jerry can to hold spare water. He grunted, wandered to the back of the house. This was Lea's boyfriend? This made me worry a bit about Lea. Great, another socially dysfunctional med student. And I was going to be stuck on a teeny-tiny little boat with her for a week. Great. (Once we got back from the voyage, I'd get another chance to meet Rick, when he was in a better mood. And he seemed quite nice, really.)
I showered, and lay down to sleep on the longest couch in the living room, sharing it with the gray cat of the residence. As at Nancy and Cedric's I was sleeping in a cat household, but not suffering any allergic reactions. This was great. I felt a pain in my toe. Sharp. Ouchie ouchie. The cat was either sticking a claw or a tooth into it. I decided I was allergic to cat claws, surrendered the long couch, curled up on the short couch, achieved slumber almost immediately.
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