Last Laugh: COVID-19 Silver Linings

1 June 2020 By Gavin Rothenburger
Illustration by John Devolle

Gavin Rothenburger has been the author of Dockwalk’s humor column Last Laugh since 2008. For questions, concerns, or for general badmouthing, you can write to me at

I don’t know how everybody feels about what’s going on, but I’m getting pretty sick of things being thrown at me every time I cough on parking meters or inadvertently sneeze on a tomato display. 

Self-isolation, because of my innate, sunny persona, has always been something I’ve sort of taken for granted. In fact, for years now people have enjoyed socially distancing themselves from me when I enter a room and, for my part, I’ve been content to treat others like they’ve got a slightly less pleasant strain of Ebola. As a result, this has meant I’ve managed not to contract any life-threatening diseases or peace-threatening casual acquaintances. 

But these are difficult times, even for people whose hobbies don’t include licking elevator buttons or kissing escalator railings, both of which are now, inexplicably, frowned upon. Over trips, charters, months, and years, we’ve all spent enough time with our crewmates that, at some point, we’ve prayed for a moment’s isolation in our cabins or anywhere even slightly more agreeable than a crew mess littered with an endless stream of belching deckhands. 

But now — well, we’re presented with an indefinite purgatory of shutting ourselves in and praying that the Internet doesn’t give out. You don’t need me to tell you the magnitude of the situation, the human and economic cost, or that its ripple effects are probably going to affect your grandchildren in the now unlikely event that you’ll ever again be allowed into an overcrowded bar late at night and be able to find somebody who’s had enough to drink that they’re actually willing to sleep with you. 

And while it may not feel like it, this separation, against our natures as it is, is the biggest contribution we can make until we can once again do irresponsible things we don’t remember in the wee hours of the morning that the Internet will never let us forget.

But I don’t like to be doom and gloom. The world has been through some tough times and people have always found a way to accidentally sleep with each other. We’ll find a way to carry on. It’s kind of what we do. So, while in no way meaning to downplay the severity or the consequences on people’s lives, I’d like to point out that even dark clouds have silver linings. 

For example, I learned that I’m not capable of violently murdering someone after I was condemned to an indefinite sentence of confinement to the boat with only the maniacal chief stew. Her incessant, crotchety moaning about the world being unfair to her was enough to give me motive and opportunity. If that didn’t give me just cause, when she threatened me with the vacuum she wielded like some medieval spiked club — just because I suggested she try being quiet for a month or so — definitely did. And while I did lay out the groundwork of a plan, gather all the necessary tools, and construct an elaborate alibi, I didn’t carry it out and considered the surprising revelation that I was incapable of cathartic homicide to be a moment of tremendous self-growth. 

So, there’s that. I’d love to say I’ve watched people banding together to help out but any sort of banding these days is liable to get you beaten with a sharp stick. A better way to put it might be that people have banded apart in ways unlike any I’ve ever seen. Yachting has always been good at responding to international crises: whether it be delivering supplies to disaster-ravaged areas or courageous, individual crews singlehandedly propping up an island’s economy with bar tabs equal to a pretty impressive GDP, yachting has been there to help. But the best addition we can make now is by subtraction.

One of our most poignant needs living this lifestyle is an absolute drive to get us anywhere but within the claustrophobic confines of our cabins and the over-producing odor factories that are our roommates, if only for a second to recover what crumbs of sanity that hadn’t drizzled overboard mid-way through the last charter. But this has stopped. The parties and gatherings that both amuse and help define our social lives have halted. Contract work, visits to suppliers, and any number of errands we run to get us out of work for 10 minutes are no more. And while it may not feel like it, this separation, against our natures as it is, is the biggest contribution we can make until we can once again do irresponsible things we don’t remember in the wee hours of the morning that the Internet will never let us forget.

All we can do is mitigate where possible, help where appropriate, and keep away from others as though they’re mutant space-vampires with really distasteful STDs, insofar as is possible while living in a sardine can with a chef who thinks sneezing is a form of personal expression. It’s a hard time for us all, but we can contribute in our own small ways. 

Even if all that entails is successfully failing to assassinate the chief stew, then we’ll have all done our part. 

The column originally ran in the June 2020 issue of Dockwalk.


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