by Dale C. Andrews
Sometimes life coughs up coincidences no writer of fiction would dare copy.
Stephen King’s observation about the strange quirks that real life can dish up was on my mind while my wife Pat and I were on vacation, under sail in the Caribbean. When contemplating the grand scheme of things I generally tend toward agnosticism. But one thing seems clear to me: while I can't discern much about the order or design of our sometimes crazy universe, there does seem to be a sense of humor underlying it. Things seem to happen that really shouldn't -- when the play-by-play announcer says that a particular ball player has never homered twice in a game, that is the time when exactly that seems most likely to occur.
Sometimes the world's humor is simply unbelievably coincidental. But in any event there are odd little rhymes that repeatedly seem to be tossed our way. And as Stephen King acknowledges, some of those coincidental happenings can be so strange that were they to be used in a fictional narrative editors would likely roll their eyes while muttering “forced.”
Since I was sailing when I was thinking these thoughts – indeed, I am in the saloon of the Royal Clipper in Martinique as I begin drafting this piece – it is probably only natural that two of the real-life stories that occurred to me, and that are probably too unbelievably coincidental to ever be offered up as fiction, involve sailing.
Sailing has been part of our lives for years. Over the past two decades we have owned a series of sailboats that have provided our weekend escapes from Washington, D.C. to the near-by Chesapeake Bay. These sailboats have included a 28 foot 1967 Pearson Triton, a 32 foot Hunter Vision, and finally a 38 foot Morgan center cockpit. Since retiring two years ago we have moved over to “the dark side” and now own a 1982 35 foot Carver diesel motor yacht, Incommunicado.
|a typical Pearson Triton|
I represented the company that had provided stage management for the production. There were many other lawyers in the case, but I became particular friendly with the attorney for the Kennedy Center, Jim Hibey, another private practitioner. Jim and I got to know each other pretty well as the case ground along at the pace of a glacier trying to move up hill. One Friday afternoon, after a particularly excruciating day in Superior Court during which absolutely nothing was accomplished and tempers flared, Jim and I found ourselves standing together on the stairs of the courthouse, our collective shoulder slumped and our collective wits at end. “Boy, do I need to get away from this,” I muttered. “Me too,” replied Jim. “At least it’s Friday.” We waved and parted.
An aside here: When I need to get away from a bad week I am fairly well located. There are lots of great things to do in Washington, D.C. on a summer weekend. To the west are the mountains. Traveling east you can easily reach the beaches of Delaware and Maryland. Closer to home there are theaters and all of the museums and restaurants you could hope for. In other words, choices abound.
As I drove away from Superior Court, however, I was thinking about the Chesapeake Bay. So when I got home I said to Pat “let’s take the boat over to St. Michaels this weekend.” She gathered the kids, and threw some necessities into our boat bag while I phoned the St. Michaels Inn and Marina and secured reservations for a slip.
|St. Michaels Inn and Marina -- slips and poolside|
Late in the afternoon, after a great sail, we were an invigorating distance away from Washington. When we reached St. Michaels we pulled in the sails and motored to our designated overnight slip at the marina. After tying up, I left Pat and the kids in the boat while I walked toward the pool and the marina office to check in. Boy, was it ever good to be away.
As I walked along the edge of the pool a voice from behind a book said “afternoon, Dale.” I looked down, startled. Stretched out on a lounge, also forgetting the week he had just been through, was Jim Hibey.
|Herrington Harbour South|
|the Morgan 38|
I soon found a link to Chris Mooney, who owned the same model Morgan that we did and who then lived on the Texas Gulf shore. Chris and I struck up an email correspondence and about a year later he and his companion Barbara quit their respective jobs and took off to the Caribbean, living aboard their boat Moonsail and exploring the many islands of the West Indies. Before they left Chris set up a website to chronicle their journeys, and emailed weekly updates of their itinerary to a long list of friends, including yours truly.
As I have previously noted, Pat and I sail the Chesapeake Bay, which is a most forgiving body of water. The bottom is generally sand or mud, so running aground is, at worst, embarrassing, and the shore is always within sight. Our marina, Herrington Harbour, (where we still have a slip) has a fine swimming pool, a sand beach and good restaurant -- all a short stroll away from our boat. Its Caribbean ambiance may be a bit ersatz, but it is not bad for 38 miles from home.
Chris, by contrast, was doing the real sailing in the real Caribbean. He and Barb were (and are) out there navigating coral reefs, clearing in and out of foreign ports, and sailing long reaches between sparsely populated islands while all the time either avoiding or weathering tropical storms. As I followed Chris' website and read his postings from various Caribbean islands that we had visited only under the supervision of captains more capable than me, I would marvel to Pat about Moonsail's log. Here was a couple sailing the same boat that we owned who were off doing things that we would never have the courage or skill to do ourselves.
One summer Chris and Barb headed north in Moonsail, no doubt looking to escape the Caribbean summer. I think they eventually got as far north as Connecticut before beginning their journey back. On their way south to the islands in early fall they sailed down the Chesapeake, having crossed into the bay through the C and D canal in Delaware Bay.
After a long day of sailing down the Chesapeake Chris and Barb were looking for a comfortable slip for the night. I had never told them that we kept our boat at Herrington Harbour South, but by the time they were sailing south of Annapolis our marina was a natural stopping point for them. They radioed ahead and were assigned a slip on A dock – the same dock where our Morgan, Double Jeopardy, was tied up and where our Carver, Incommunicado, now lives. When they reached the marina Chris entered the rock lined channel protecting the harbor and steered Moonsail toward A dock Then, during the course of executing a turn that I make every time I have taken any boat I have ever owned into the bay – Moonsail hit the rock wall at the end of the channel. The collision took out her rudder.
|Incommunicado in her slip at Herrington Harbour South|
As Stephen King observed, funny what life coughs up sometimes.