On my first day, the captain and a volunteer I’ll call Provolone took me to Costco. It’s funny how fast it all came back to me: which cuts of meat went furthest for the money; remembering to stop and get snack food on the way out (Peanut M&M’s because they at least pack protein with the chocolate); remembering to get the Lemonade mix so they’re not just drinking water.
When we got back to the boat I was prepared to throw a curried fried rice dish together. But we learned that the San Diego Maritime Museum was hosting a buffet dinner for us on the back of the Berkeley, a steam-powered ferry-boat that shuffled people across San Francisco Bay for 60 years.
If you get a chance next time you’re in San Diego, I highly recommend the museum. I had arrived in San Diego earlier in the day while all of the boats were out parading around the harbor so I had time to toured the Star of India. Though she only sails once a year, this has earned the Star of India the reputation of being the oldest sailing vessel in operation. She’s also massive. At 205 feet, she’s 70 feet longer than any of the boats I’ve cooked on. She’s 35 feet in the beam: the decks feel like ballrooms. I also toured a retired Soviet submarine (surreal!) and the HMS Surprise, known for its starring role in “Master and Commander” with Russell Crow. On the Surprise I met a volunteer who others have nicknamed Sharky, who had once worked on submarines for the navy. He had a massive collection of tall ship pendants strung around his neck, including one from the Lynx and the ill-fated Bounty.
Because the world is round
I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I have never stepped into a world so small as that of the tall ships. One of Stanley Kubrick’s first films was a 1950s promotional tool commissioned for the Seafarers, a union of sailors which still exists. The film begins with a word from the narrator in which he says that: “Nobody knows better than a seafaring man, that any man, no matter how independent he is, isn’t entirely independent. He’s a member of something larger, of a family, of a community, of a nation.”
As I followed Skater around the decks of the Berkeley, she pointed out many people I knew or had heard of in my tall ship travels. I even asked her to introduce me to one captain, Captain Catalina, whose boat I almost signed on with after the Marlin. Captain Catalina began talking about people they might know in common. “Do you know Sharfemaxx?”
I never told this story, but when I was asked to leave the Neverland, Sugarbelle and I were out at the bar one night and we met Sharfemaxx, a guy who’d had a similar experience several years earlier. “You need to know that not all boats are like that,” he told me. Then he proceeded to call his old captain – the very same man now standing beside me on the Berkeley. “Captain Catalina?” he asked, “Do you need a cook?” Apparently Sharfemaxx is now captain of his own boat in San Francisco.
That’s how small the tall ship world is.
The fellowship of seafarers
On my way to my bunk that night I overheard the sound of an instrument coming from the aft cabin. A small group of sailors and volunteers had gathered around the nav station. The captain (who needs a nickname so I’ll call him Captain Nash) sat strumming and telling stories with Skater about previous sails, other captains. Skater got out a book of quotes and stories and handed it to me. I opened it up, marveling at the fact that no matter how much I felt like I had strayed from the world of the seafarers, I was still a member of the club.